Killer Christmas: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (ABC-TV Movie 1972)


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Four daughters reunite at the old family homestead during Christmas to visit their estranged, dying father. Sounds like the perfect recipe for one of those sticky-sweet Hallmark movies, right? Wrong, my little elves! HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, originally broadcast as part of ABC-TV’s “Movie of the Week” series (1969-1975) is part proto-slasher, part psycho-biddie shocker, and a whole lot of fun! It plays kind of like a 70’s exploitation film, only with a high-powered cast that includes Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Julie Harris , and Walter Brennan, a script by Joseph (PSYCHO) Stefano, and direction courtesy of John Llwellyn Moxey (HORROR HOTEL, THE NIGHT STALKER).

Rich old Benjamin Morgan (Brennan) has summoned his daughters home on a dark and stormy Christmas Eve, claiming his second wife Elizabeth (Harris) is slowly poisoning him to death. Elizabeth was once ‘suspected’ of poisoning her first husband (though never proven) and spent some time…

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Growing Pains: YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW (Warner Brothers 1966)


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Francis Ford Coppola  was still a UCLA film student when he made YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW, the 1966 coming of age comedy he used as his MFA thesis. The young Coppola was 27, and had gained experience working for Roger Corman ; indeed, Corman gave him his first break when he hired Coppola to write and direct the horror quickie DEMENTIA 13. But YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW was his first major studio release, and put him on the map as a talent to keep an eye on.

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Bernard Chanticleer is a 19 year old nerd with a way-overprotective mother and disinterested, authoritarian father. He works for Dad at a New York City library, and is constantly goofing up on the job. Dad thinks it’s time for Bernard to spread his wings and move on his own, much to Mom’s displeasure. She finds him a room at a house owned by Miss Thing, who’s tenants include conservative…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE HAUNTING (MGM 1963)


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“No one will come in the night… in the dark!”

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There’s nothing like a good haunted house movie, and 1963’s THE HAUNTING is one of the best ever. Producer/director Robert Wise cut his filmic teeth on Val Lewton shockers like THE BODY SNATCHER  and noirs such as BORN TO KILL  before graduating to mainstream movies like I WANT TO LIVE! and WEST SIDE STORY. In THE HAUNTING he returns to his dark roots to create a nightmarish vision of Shirley Jackson’s eerie novel The Haunting of Hill House.

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“Scandal, murder, insanity, suicide” have plagued Hill House for close to 100 years. The cursed Crain family were its original inhabitants, designed by eccentric Hugh Crain. The house is a darkly foreboding Gothic structure with oddly tilted angles both inside and out. Dr. John Markham, a paranormal investigator, visits proper Bostonian matron Mrs. Sanderson, the house’s current owner, asking to take a lease…

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #33: Reflections in a Golden Eye (dir by John Huston)


Reflections_in_a_golden_eyeFor the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, 126 cinematic melodramas.  I started in the 1920s with Sunrise and Wings and now, 33 reviews later, we have finally reached the end of the 1960s.  And what better way to end the 60s than by taking a mercifully brief look at the 1969 film, Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Now, before I get too critical of this film, I should acknowledge that there are some critics who absolutely love Reflections in a Golden Eye.  They think very highly of Marlon Brando’s performance as Maj. Weldon Penderton, a closeted homosexual who is stationed at a military base in the South.  They think that Elizabeth Taylor’s performance as Brando’s wife isn’t somewhat embarrassing.  And they think that the script isn’t overwritten and that director John Huston doesn’t try way too hard to prove himself worthy of the title auteur.  They feel that Reflections in a Golden Eye is a secret masterpiece that does not deserve to be known as an infamous flop.

I’m definitely not one of those people but they do exist.  There are some very respectable and intelligent critics who happen to love Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Well — vive la différence!

Earlier in this series, I pointed out that the 60s were not a great time for old school Hollywood directors trying to compete with both American television and European film.  It was a time when talented directors found themselves trying to keep up with the times and appeal to new audiences.  As a result, Joseph L. Mankiewicz ended up making Cleopatra.  Edward Dmytryk did The Carpetbaggers.  Elia Kazan directed The Arrangement.  William Wyler did The Liberation of L.B. Jones.  Stanley Kramer made RPM.  

And John Huston made Reflections in a Golden Eye.

This painfully slow film follows the affairs of six people on that Southern army base.  Brando is emotionally repressed and spend most of the movie mumbling in one of the worst Southern accents ever.  Taylor is obsessed with horses and spends most of the movie yelling in one of the worst Southern accents ever. Robert Forster is the object of Brando’s repressed desire, a soldier who likes to ride horses while naked and who is obsessed with sniffing Elizabeth Taylor’s underwear.  Brian Keith is in charge of the army base and is having an affair with Taylor.  Julie Harris is Keith’s suicidal wife.  Zorro David is Harris’s houseboy who, at one point, is nice enough to give this film a title by mentioning something about a golden eye.

What’s particularly insane is that Huston took the idea of making this film a reflection in a golden eye literally.  The entire film is tinted a sickly gold color.  Whenever the characters step outside, the sky looks like the sun has just exploded.  Whenever the characters are inside, they all look like they have jaundice.  On the one hand, you have to respect the fact that Huston so committed himself to potentially alienating the audience.  On the other hand, the yellow-tinting renders almost every image so grotesque that I actually found myself growing physically ill as I watched the film.

Watching Reflections in a Golden Eye, I could understand why The Godfather was such a huge comeback for Marlon Brando.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that Brando gives a bad performance here.  He’s watchable throughout the entire film.  But it’s still a performance that’s so strangely modulated (and which features a Southern accent that is just amazingly bad) that it ultimately distracts from the film itself.  If anything, Brando gives a performance that suggests what happens when a talented and eccentric man gets bored with what he’s doing.

(If you want to see a good Brando performance from 1969, see Burn.)

Reflections in a Golden Eye is a pretentious mess but fortunately, both Huston and American film would make a comeback in the 1970s.  We’ll start on that decade tomorrow.

(Yes, this video is a spoiler but it’ll allow you to see the gold tinting.)

(The film was also released in an untinted version.)

Embracing the Melodrama #25: The People Next Door (dir by David Greene)


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For the past week, I’ve been reviewing — in chronological order — fifty of the most, for reasons good and bad, memorable  film melodramas of all time.  I started with a film from 1916 called Where Are My Children? and now, as we reach the halfway mark, we also reach the 70s.  There were several reasons why I wanted to start the 70s with the 1970 drugs-in-the-suburbs melodrama, The People Next Door.  First off, not many people seem to have heard of it and I always enjoy discovering and sharing previously obscure films.  But, even more importantly, The People Next Door stars Eli Wallach, the great character actor who recently passed away at the age of 98.  Needless to say, Wallach is great in The People Next Door but then again, when wasn’t Wallach great?

At first glance, the Masons appears to be your typical suburban family.  Patriarch Arthur (Eli Wallach) may be a bit strict but he works hard to provide his family with a good life.  Wife Gerrie (Julie Harris) may seem to be a bit nervous at times but she still works hard to maintain a perfect home.  Son Artie (Stephen McHattie) may have long hippie hair and he does devote a lot of time to his band but otherwise, he seems to be a good kid.  And then there’s 16 year-old Maxie (Deborah Winters), who is blonde and pretty and overall the ideal American girl.  Even better the Masons live next door to the friendly Hoffmans, perfect David Hoffman (Hal Holbrook), his perfect wife Tina (Cloris Leachman), and their perfect teenage son, Sandy (Don Scardino).

But guess what?

Nobody’s perfect!

Arthur is actually a smug and overbearing bully whose constant bragging hides his own dissatisfaction with how his life has turned out.  He is jealous of his son’s future and his over protectiveness of his daughter takes on a distinctly disturbing tone as the film progresses.  Arthur is also having an affair with his secretary (Rue McClanahan).

Gerrie knows about Arthur’s affair but chooses to look the other way.  She goes through her day in a haze of smoke provided by the cigarettes that she is constantly smoking.  Like Arthur, she cannot understand her children.  Unlike Arthur, she does realize that she doesn’t have all the answers.

Artie may be a good kid but he feels totally and thoroughly alienated from the rest of the family and, because of his long hair, he is the constant subject of Arthur’s abuse.

And then there’s Maxie, who everyone believes to be perfect and wholesome until one night when she’s discovered tripping on LSD.  Arthur immediately assumes that Artie must have given his sister the drugs and kicks Artie out of the house.  However, what Arthur doesn’t realize, is that Maxie is actually getting the drugs from clean-cut Sandy.  Sandy doesn’t use himself but he has no problem with dealing.

To Arthur and Gerrie’s shock, Maxie tells them that she’s been using drugs for a while and she’s sexually active as well!  When Arthur subsequently discovers Maxie snorting cocaine and living with a naked biker, it’s naturally time for everyone to get into family therapy.  Unfortunately, the therapy doesn’t really help that much and soon, Maxie is again dropping acid and dancing naked on the front lawn…

As you can probably guess from the description above, The People Next Door is one of those families-in-crisis melodramas where everything that possibly can be wrong with a family is wrong with this family.  It’s always easy to dismiss well-intentioned films like this and The People Next Door has its share over-the-top moments.  But, at the same time, the film actually works better than most of the Suburban Hell melodramas of the early 70s.

That’s largely due to the performances, with Eli Wallach in particular giving an explosive performance as an all too plausible monster and Hal Holbrook and Cloris Leachman very believably bringing to life another family which turns out to be not quite as ideal as they first appear to be.  And then there’s Deborah Winters, who starts out as being so mannered that you think she’s going to give a bad performance but then, as the film progresses, you realize that Maxie is the one giving the performance because that’s the only way she can survive her “perfect” family.

I first came across The People Next Door on YouTube and, considering how much I love exposing people to obscure films, I was really looking forward to sharing it with you on this site.  But guess what?  In the three weeks between me watching this film and me staring this post, The People Next Door was taken down from the site.  I guess somebody is really dedicating to protecting the copyright on a film that hardly anybody in the world has actually heard of.

So, unfortunately, I can only share the trailer.

Watch it below!