4 Shots From 4 Films: Special James Coburn Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Whether he was appearing in a western, a spy film, a war film, a comedy, or a dark drama, James Coburn was one of the coolest and most underapperciated actors around.  He made bad films tolerable and good films even better.  Regardless of the role, Coburn brought his own unique style to each and every performance.  He was born 92 years ago today in Nebraska so here are just four of the films from his legendary career.

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Magnificent Seven (1960, directed by John Sturges)

In Like Flint (1967, directed by Gordon Douglas)

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971, directed by Sergio Leone)

Affliction (1998, directed by Paul Schrader)

The Baltimore Bullet (1980, directed by Robert Ellis Miller)


James Coburn was one of those actors who improved any film in which he appeared in.  Take The Baltimore Bullet, for example.  Without Coburn, The Baltimore Bullet is basically The Hustler without any of that film’s grit or edginess.  With Coburn, it’s still a bad remake of The Hustler but at least it’s got James Coburn.

Coburn plays Nick Casey, who was once known as The Baltimore Bullet.  He was the top pool player in the country but now, he makes a meager but enjoyable living traveling the country with his protegee, Billie Joe Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner), and hustling people out of their money.  Nick’s plan is to raise enough money so that he and Billie Joe can go down to New Orleans, enter the national pool championship, and defeat the reigning champion, a man known only as the Deacon (Omar Sharif).  The episodic film follows Nick and Billie Joe as they travel across the country, having comedic adventures and trying to stay one step ahead of all of the people that they’ve cheated.   Along the way, they pick up an aspiring country singer named Carolina Red (Ronee Blakley, who somehow went from her Oscar-nominated debut in Nashville to this).

The Baltimore Bullet doesn’t work for any number of reasons.  A big problem is that Nick and Billie Joe’s friendship never really makes sense.  There’s no real reason for Nick to need a protegee and Billie Joe often seems to be more interested in playing poker than playing pool.  We never understand why Nick would take someone as erratic as Billie Joe under his wing.  Another problem is that The Deacon never seems like a formidable opponent.  He’s just Omar Sharif, looking bored and carrying a pool cue.  Because we don’t like Billie Joe and don’t care about the Deacon, we don’t really care who wins the tournament.  Probably the most interesting thing about The Baltimore Bullet is that, while it was obviously meant to be a rip-off of The Hustler, its plot, with a veteran hustler teaming up with a callow protegee, actually has more in common with The Hustler‘s sequel, The Color of Money (which would be released 6 years after The Baltimore Bullet).

All of that almost doesn’t matter, though, just because James Coburn’s in the movie.  James Coburn always came across like the coolest human being on the planet, even in something like The Baltimore Bullet.  There’s not much depth to Nick as a character but Coburn plays the role with a gleam in his eyes and a leer that looks like it belongs on the face of a cartoon wolf and it’s impossible not to like him.  While everyone else is struggling with the bad dialogue and their inconsistent characters, Coburn looks like he’s having the time of his life.  Coburn was an actor who was incapable of giving a bad performance and he’s the main reason to see The Baltimore Bullet.

Cinemax Friday: The Hit List (1993, directed by William Webb)


Charlie Pike (Jeff Fahey) is an assassin with a conscience.  He learned how to kill while serving in the military and now, he uses his skills to help out the Committee, a shadowy organization of lawyers who are determined to take out the leaders of organized crime.  When Charlie announces that he has decided to retire from the killing game, the Committee’s Peter Mayhew (James Coburn!) asks him to take on one more job as a personal favor to him.

Mayhew puts Charlie in contact with the beautiful and alluring Jordan (Yancy Butler, making her film debut).  Jordan is the widow of a businessman who was murdered by the mob.  Jordan asks Charlie to kill the man who killed her husband.  Charlie agrees but, after he does the job, he discovers that the man he killed was actually a government informant who was scheduled to testify to Congress!  Someone double-crossed Charlie and now, Charlie’s got both the police and another group of assassins trying to track him down.  Jordan claims that Mayhew told her that the informant was responsible for her husband’s death.  Mayhew denies it and says that Jordan must have set Charlie up.  Charlie has to figure out who to trust before it’s too late.  Complicating matters is that Charlie and Jordan have become lovers.

The Hit List is essentially a 40s film noir reinterpreted for the direct-to-video age.  Jeff Fahey has the Alan Ladd role while Yancy Butler does her best imitation of Lana Turner.  Fahey was one of the best actors to routinely star in the neo-noirs that used to populate late night Cinemax and The Hit List features one of his best performances.  Fahey is a convincing killer but he still brings enough humanity to the role that you believe Charlie could find himself falling for Jordan.  Yancy Butler is a sultry and sexy femme fatale and James Coburn is James Coburn, supercool, slick, and always in control.  It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one of the two is betraying Fahey but all three commit to their roles and give enjoyable performances.  I especially liked the scene where Mayhew accuses Jordan of double-crossing Charlie and James Coburn grins like he’s having the time of his life.  James Coburn was one of those actors who could liven up and improve any scene in any movie and he proves that here.

The Hit List is a well-made B-noir that’s elevated by its cast and which will leave you nostalgic for Cinemax in the 90s.

A Tasty Spaghetti Ragu: A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE (MGM 1974)


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James Coburn, at the height of his career, moved from American movies to international productions with his trademark elegance and ease. He worked for the Maestro of Spaghetti Westerns Sergio Leone in 1972’s DUCK, YOU SUCKER , then appeared for Leone’s former Assistant Director Tonino Valerii in A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE, a revenge tale disguised as a caper film that costars Telly Savalas and Spaghetti icon Bud Spencer. The version I viewed was the truncated American cut, missing about a half hour of footage and released stateside in 1974. If the complete version is as good as this one, I need to hunt it down and see it!

The Civil War-set drama finds Coburn as Col. Pembroke, recently escaped from a Confederate prison after surrendering Fort Holman without a fight to Rebel Major Ward (Savalas) and his forces. Fort Holman is a crucial piece of real…

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Lonesome Cowboy: Randolph Scott in RIDE LONESOME (United Artists 1959)


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Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher  teamed again for RIDE LONESOME, their sixth of seven Westerns and fourth with writer Burt Kennedy. Scott’s a hard case bounty hunter bringing in a killer, joined in his trek by an old “acquaintance” with an agenda of his own. Everyone’s playing things close to the vest here, and the stark naked desert of Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, with its vast emptiness, plays as big a part as the fine acting ensemble.

Ben Brigade (Scott) has captured the murderous Billy John and intends to bring him to justice in Santa Cruz. Coming to a waystation, he finds Sam Boone and his lanky young companion Whit, known outlaws who’ve heard the territorial governor is granting amnesty to whoever brings in Billy. Also at the station is Mrs. Crane, whose husband has been murdered by marauding Mescaleros. Sam’s interested in forming a partnership and taking Billy…

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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 #343: Looker (1981, directed by Michael Crichton)


Someone is murdering models and trying to frame Larry Roberts (Albert Finney), a plastic surgeon.  Larry suspects that the actual murderer is somehow involved with the Digital Matrix research firm, a shadowy organization that is headed by James Coburn and Leigh Taylor Young.  Digital Matrix has developed a new technique where they digitally scan a model’s body and then generate a 3-D duplicate that can be used in commercials and on film.  The real-life models stand to make a fortune from the royalties, assuming that they are physically perfect and they do not end up getting murdered immediately after being scanned.  Larry’s girlfriend, Cindy (Susan Dey), is just the latest model to have been scanned and now Larry suspects that she might be targeted for death as well.

When I was growing up, Looker was one of those movies that always seemed to be on HBO.  I don’t know why this box office bomb was so popular on cable but I do remember seeing it several times.  I guarantee you that anyone who has ever came across this movie on HBO in the 80s and 90s will remember it.  They might not remember the title but they will remember that the bad guys used light guns that would cause people to briefly go into a catatonic state.  Everyone who has ever seen this movie remembers the model standing frozen in the doorway of her apartment.

As for the movie itself, the guns are cool and so is the scene where Susan Dey gets scanned but otherwise, Looker is not very good.  Michael Crichton later said that he had conflicts with Warner Bros during the editing of Looker and, as a result, there were some important scenes that did not make it into the final cut.  For instance, it is never really explained why the models are being killed.  Albert Finney was in one of his periodic career slumps when he starred as Larry and he looks uncomfortable going through the motions of being an action star.  Two years after Looker came out, Finney’s career would be reinvigorated when he received an Oscar nomination for The Dresser and three years later, he would give his career best performance in Under the Volcano.

As it typical of Michael Crichton’s work, Looker was ahead of its time in predicting the use of CGI in media but otherwise, it’s nothing special.  If you want to see a good Crichton-directed film, stick with Westworld and The Great Train Robbery.

An October Film Review: The Night America Trembled (dir by Tom Donovan)


Today is the 79th anniversary of Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

In 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Welles’s War of the World.  Presented as a live news program, it was one of the first mockumentaries.  It also caused a panic.  How big the panic was is open for debate.  Some say only a few people took it seriously.  Other sources say that it was a nationwide crisis.  But, regardless, Welles made history on that night.  Not only did he illustrate the power of the media but he also scared the Hell out of a lot of people.  All in all, a pretty good night…

Filmed in 1957 for a television program called Westinghouse Studio One, The Night America Trembled is a dramatization of that night.  For legal reasons, Orson Welles is not portrayed nor is his name mentioned.  Instead, the focus is mostly on the people listening to the broadcast and getting the wrong idea.  That may sound like a comedy but The Night America Trembled takes itself fairly seriously.  Even pompous old Edward R. Murrow shows up to narrate the film, in between taking drags off a cigarette.  (I enjoyed the show but, whenever Murrow showed up, I was reminded of a grumpy old teacher complaining that none of his students cared about the Spanish-American War.)

Clocking in at a brisk 60 minutes, The Night America Trembled is an interesting recreation of that October 30th.  Among the people panicking: a group of people in a bar who, before hearing the broadcast, were debating whether or not Hitler was as crazy as people said he was, a babysitter who goes absolutely crazy with fear, and a group of poker-playing college students.  If, like me, you’re a frequent viewer of TCM, you may recognize some of the faces in the large cast: Ed Asner, James Coburn, John Astin, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty all make early appearances.

As I said, it’s an interesting little historical document and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Carey Treatment (dir by Blake Edwards)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She has got over 170 movies on the DVR to watch and she’s trying to get it done before the start of the new year!  Can she get it done?  Probably not, but she’s going to try!  1972’s The Carey Treatment was recorded off of TCM on July 23rd.)

Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) is the epitome of 1970s cool.  He’s got hair long enough to cover the top half of ears.  He’s got a fast car.  He’s got a rebellious attitude and a girlfriend (Jennifer O’Neill) who rarely questions his decisions.  Though you don’t see it in the movie, Dr. Carey probably smokes weed when he’s back at his fashionably decorated apartment.  How do I know this?  Well, he’s played by James Coburn.  Even if some of them are nearly 50 years old, you can still get a contact high from watching any movie featuring James Coburn.

Anyway, what the Hell is The Carey Treatment about?  Dr. Carey has just recently moved to Boston, where he’s taken a job at a stodgy old hospital.  The hospital’s chief doctor, J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy, of Halloween III: Season of The Witch fame), might want Dr. Carey to tone down his free-livin’, free-lovin’ California ways but no one tells Peter Carey what to do.  In fact, the entire city of Boston might be too stodgy and conventional for Dr. Carey.  You see, Dr. Carey not only heals people.  He also beats up people who try to stand in his way.  Peter Carey is a doctor who cares but he’s also a doctor who can kick ass.

And he’s going to have to kick a lot of ass because Dr. Randall’s daughter has just turned up dead.  The police say that she died as the result of a botched abortion and they’ve arrested Carey’s best friend, Dr. David Tao (James Hong).  (The Carey Treatment, it should be noted, was filmed before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.)  The Boston establishment is determined to use Dr. Tao as a scapegoat but Dr. Carey is convinced that his friend is innocent.  In fact, he doesn’t think that the death was the result of an abortion at all.  Carey sets out to solve the case … HIS WAY!

If it seems like I’m going a little bit overboard with my emphasis on the Dr. Peter Carey character, that’s because this entire movie feels more like a pilot for a weekly Dr. Carey television series as opposed to an actual feature film.  It’s easy to image that each week, James Coburn would drive from hospital to hospital, solving medical mysteries and debating social issues with stuffy members of the Boston establishment.  Henry Mancini would provide the theme music and Don Murray would guest star as Dr. Carey’s brother, a priest who encourages the young men in his parish to burn their draft cards.

It might have eventually become an interesting TV show but it falls pretty flat as a movie.  James Coburn is in nearly every scene, which would usually be a good thing.  But in The Carey Treatment, he gives an incredibly indifferent performance.  He seems to be bored by the whole thing and, as a result, Dr. Peter Carey is less a cool rebel and more of a narcissistic jerk.  The mystery itself is handled rather haphazardly.  On the positive side, Michael Blodgett gives a wonderfully creepy performance as a duplicitous masseur but otherwise, The Carey Treatment is nothing special.

If you want to see a great James Coburn film, track down The President’s Analyst.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door: PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (MGM 1973)


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(PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID airs tonight at 11:45 EST on TCM. Do yourselves a favor… watch it!)

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID was director Sam Peckinpah’s final Western, and as usual it’s about more than just the Old West. It’s about the new breed vs the old establishment, about the maverick auteur vs the old studio guard, and about his never-ending battle to make his films his way. The fact that there are six, count ’em, SIX different editors credited tells you what MGM honcho James Aubrey thought of that idea! They butchered over 20 minutes out of the movie, which then proceeded to tank at the box office. Fortunately for us, PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID has been restored to its full glory, and we can enjoy Peckinpah’s original artistic vision.

I’m not going to try to make excuses for Peckinpah; he was a legitimate pain in the ass, a…

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