Film Review: The End (1978, directed by Burt Reynolds)


What if you were dying and no one cared?

That is the theme of The End, which is probably the darkest film that Burt Reynolds ever starred in, let alone directed. Burt plays Sonny Lawson, a shallow real estate developer who is told that he has a fatal blood disease and that, over the next six months, he is going to die a slow and painful death. After seeking and failing to find comfort with both religion and sex, Sonny decides to kill himself. The only problem is that every time he tries, he fails. He can’t even successfully end things. When he meets an mental patient named Marlon Borunki (Dom DeLuise), he hires the man to murder him. Marlon is determined to get the job done, even if Sonny himself later changes his mind.

Yes, it’s a comedy.

The script for The End was written by Jerry Belson in 1971. Though Belson also worked on the scripts for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Always, he was best-known for his work on sitcoms. (Belson was an early collaborator of Garry Marshall’s.) The End was originally written with Woody Allen in mind but when Allen passed on it to concentrate on directing his own movies about death, the script spent five years in limbo. Reynolds later said that, when he eventually came across The End, he knew he had to do it because it was the only script that reflected “my strange sense of comedy.” United Artists was uncertain whether there was much box office potential in a film about a self-centered man dying and they required Reynolds to first make the commercially successful Hooper before they would produce The End.

The End was made for 3 million dollars and it went on to gross 40 million. That the film was a box office success is a testament to the late 70s starpower of Burt Reynolds because it’s hard to think of any other mainstream comedy that goes as much out of its way to alienate the audience as The End does. While watching The End for the first time, most viewers will probably expect two things to happen. First off, Sonny will learn to appreciate life and be a better person. Secondly, it will turn out that his fatal diagnosis was incorrect. Instead, neither of those happen. Sonny is going to die no matter what and he never becomes a better person. What’s more is that he never even shows any real interest in becoming a better person. The film’s signature scene comes when Sonny prays to God and offers to give up all of his money if he survives, just to immediately start backtracking on the amount. It’s funny but it’s also a sign that if you’re looking for traditional Hollywood sentiment, you’re not going to find it here.

Burt not only stared in The End but he also directed it and, as was usually the case whenever he directed a film, the cast is a mix of friends and Hollywood veterans. Sally Field plays Sonny’s flakey, hippie girlfriend while Robby Benson is cast as a young priest who fails to provide Sonny with any spiritual comfort. Joanne Woodward plays his estranged wife and Kristy McNichol plays his daughter. Myrna Loy and Pat O’Brien play his parents. Norman Fell, Carl Reiner, and Strother Martin play various doctors. The movie is stolen by Dom DeLuise, playing the only person who seems to care that Sonny’s dying, if just because it offers him an excuse to kill Sonny before the disease does. DeLuise was a brilliant comedic actor whose talents were often underused in films. The End sets DeLuise free and he gives a totally uninhibited performance.

Despite DeLuise’s performance, The End doesn’t always work as well as it seems like it should. Though Reynolds always said that this film perfectly captured his sense of humor, his direction often seems to be struggling to strike the right balance between comedy and tragedy and, until DeLuise shows up, the movie frequently drags. As a character, the only interesting thing about Sonny is that he’s being played by Burt Reynolds. That is both the film’s main flaw and the film’s biggest strength. Sonny may not be interesting but, because we’re not used to seeing Burt cast as such a self-loathing, self-pitying character, it is interesting to watch a major star so thoroughly reveal all of his fears and insecurities.

If you’re a Burt Reynolds fan, The End is an interesting film, despite all of its flaws. Burt often described this as being one of his favorite and most personal films. It’s a side of Burt Reynolds that few of his other films had the courage to show.

Film Review: The Boy With Green Hair (dir by Joseph Losey)


Who is Peter Fry (played by a 12 year-old Dean Stockwell), the young boy at the center of the 1948 film, The Boy With Green Hair?

When we first meet him, Peter is a nearly mute child who has had all of his hair shaved off and who refuses to talk about either one of his parents.  He’s mysteriously shown up in a small town and it’s only after a kindly psychologist (played by Robert Ryan) speaks with him that we discover that Peter is an orphan.  Both of his parents are dead, victims of the Second World War.  Fortunately, a retired actor named Gramps (Pat O’Brien) is willing to adopt Peter and raise him as his own.  Gramps has all sorts of stories about the times that he performed in Europe.  The film hints that Gramps might be a damn liar but he’s well-meaning, nonetheless.

Peter starts to attend school and slowly, but surely, he comes out of his shell.  Soon, he appears to be just another carefree child and his hair even grows back.  But then, one day, he sees a poster featuring other war orphans, children like him who have lost their families to war.  When Peter overhears adults talking about how the world may go to war again and how there are now even bigger and more destructive bombs that can be dropped on America’s enemies, Peter start to get upset.  What’s the point of going to school and preparing for the future if there’s not going to be any future?

One night, Peter goes to sleep.  When he wakes up in the morning, he discovers that his hair has turned green!

Why has Peter’s hair turned green?  It’s hard to say but the town is remarkably unsympathetic.  It’s perhaps understandable that Peter’s classmates would make fun of him because they’re children and children are the worst about not being able to handle change.  But not even the adults seem to be able to handle Peter having green hair!  They want to shave his head again!

With even kindly old Gramps prepared to take away Peter’s green hair, Peter flees into the woods.  There’s where he runs into the spirits of all the children who have either died or been orphaned by war.  They have a message for Peter….

The Boy With Green Hair is both an antiwar parable and a plea for tolerance.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in the entire film but, considering that it was made at a time when the world was still in ruins and people were still getting used to living in the shadow of the atomic bomb, it’s perhaps understandable that the film would be a bit heavy-handed.  It was, after all, made during a heavy-handed time.  That said, the film actually works better as a parable about racism than as a pacifist statement.  It’s kind of hard to see how Peter having green hair could convince people to pursue world peace but the way that Peter is ostracized for being different from everyone else is something to which many viewers could undoubtedly relate.

There’s some weird padding in the film.  For instance, there’s a weird musical number involving Gramps that comes out of nowhere.  Still, one can see why the film made an impression on some viewers.  Dean Stockwell gives a sympathetic and, most importantly, naturalistic performance as Peter and the film’s message is a sincere one.  One could easily imagine and also easily dread the prospect of this film being remade with Peter’s hair turning green over climate change.  I’m a little surprised that hasn’t happened yet, especially considering the amount of coverage that was once given to Greta Thunberg, whose pronouncements and fame have made her a somewhat angrier version of the boy with green hair.  Hopefully, a remake won’t ever happen, as the original film works just fine as it is.  Not everything has to be remade.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Flirtation Walk (dir by Frank Borzage)


 

In the 1934 Best Picture nominee, Flirtation Walk, Dick Powell plays a soldier who is constantly trying to go AWOL.

It’s not that Richard “Dick” Palmer Grant Dorcy Jr. dislikes the army.  In fact, he’s actually getting a pretty good deal out of his enlistment.  He’s been stationed in Hawaii, where he gets to go to luaus and hang out on the beach.  He has a wonderful friend and mentor in the person of Sgt. Scrapper Thornhill (Pat O’Brien).  Since this film was made in 1934, he’s not going to have to worry about going to war for another 7 years.  He’s known as The Canary because he loves to whistle and sing.  Everyone like Pvt. Dick Dorcy and that includes Kit Fitts (Ruby Keeler).

Unfortunately, Kit’s father is General Fitts (Henry O’Neill) and he’s none too amused about his daughter having a romance with an irresponsible enlisted man.  He would much rather that Kit marry his aide, Lt. Biddle (John Eldredge).  After he’s told to stay away from Kitt, Dick makes plans to desert so he can run off with her.  Fortunately, Scrapper finds out what Dick is planning and he goes to Kit and warns her that Dick’s about to throw away his life for her.  Not wanting him to get into trouble, Kit pretends that she never felt anything for Dick.  When a broken-hearted Dick wonders why Kit rejected him, Biddle smugly informs him that he’s neither “an officer nor a gentleman.”

Stung, Dick decides to fix that problem.  In order to become an officer, he applies for admission to West Point and gets in.  Dick leaves Hawaii for the mainland and he does very well at West Point.  He’s even put in charge of producing, writing, and directing West Point’s annual theatrical production.  However, things get complicated with Gen. Fitts arrives to serve as superintendent.  Coming with Gen. Fitts are both Kit and Lt. Biddle.

Deciding to express his angst through art, Dick writes a show about a female general.  Since Kit is the only female at West Point, guess who gets the lead role?  Though Kit is still in love with Dick, she can’t get him to listen to her explanation for why she rejected him.  Will a stroll along West Point’s famed Flirtation Walk help fix things?

Well, it is a Dick Powell musical….

Flirtation Walk is a pleasant but forgettable movie.  Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler make for a cute couple but neither one of them gives a particularly interesting performance and the bland songs don’t make much of an impression either.  Those who are into military history might enjoy the fact that the film was actually filmed on location at West Point but, for the rest of us, this is a nice but not particularly memorable musical romance.  For me, the most interesting part of the film was that it didn’t even attempt to be realistic when it came to Dick’s theatrical production.  It’s a huge production, if never coming close to being as much fun as the one from 42nd Street.

Why was Flirtation Walk nominated for Best Picture?  I imagine it was because it was a hit at the box office.  It only received one other nomination, for Best Sound Recording.  Regardless of why it was nominated, it lost to the far more memorable It Happened One Night.

A Wee Bit O’Blarney with Cagney & O’Brien: BOY MEETS GIRL (Warner Brothers 1938)


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Tomorrow’s the day when everybody’s Irish, and America celebrates St. Patrick’s Day! The green beer will flow and copious amounts of Jameson will be consumed,  the corned beef and cabbage will be piled high, and “Danny Boy” will be sung by drunks in every pub across the land. Come Monday, offices everywhere will be unproductive, as all you amateur Irishmen will be nursing hangovers of Emerald Isle proportions. They say laughter is the best medicine, so my suggestion is to start your workday watching an underrated screwball comedy called BOY MEETS GIRL, starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, both members in good standing of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia”!

Jimmy and Pat play a pair of wacky screenwriters working for Royal Studios on a vehicle for fading cowboy star Dick Foran. Pretentious producer Ralph Bellamy has enough problems without these two jokers, as rumor has it Royal is about to be sold…

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 22: Winter Under the Stars


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I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and since my DVR is heading towards max capacity, I’m way overdue! Everyone out there in classic film fan land knows about TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars”, right? Well, consider this my Winter version, containing a half-dozen capsule reviews of some Hollywood star-filled films of the past!

PLAYMATES (RKO 1941; D: David Butler ) – That great thespian John Barrymore’s press agent (Patsy Kelly) schemes with swing band leader Kay Kyser’s press agent (Peter Lind Hayes) to team the two in a Shakespearean  festival! Most critics bemoan the fact that this was Barrymore’s final film, satirizing himself and hamming it up mercilessly, but The Great Profile, though bloated from years of alcohol abuse and hard living, seems to be enjoying himself in this fairly funny but minor screwball comedy with music. Lupe Velez livens things up as Barrymore’s spitfire…

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Man of the People: John Ford’s THE LAST HURRAH (Columbia 1958)


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This post has been preempted as many times as tonight’s State of the Union Address! 


John Ford’s penchant for nostalgic looks back at “the good old days” resulted in some of his finest works. The sentimental Irishman created some beautiful tone poems in his 1930’s films with Will Rogers, and movies like HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE QUIET MAN convey Ford’s sense of loss and wistful longing for simpler times. The director’s THE LAST HURRAH continues this theme in a character study about an Irish-American politician’s final run for mayor, running headfirst into a new era of politics dominated by television coverage and media hype instead of old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground handshaking and baby-kissing. It’s not only a good film, but a movie buff’s Nirvana, featuring some great older stars and character actors out for their own Last Hurrah with the Old Master.

Based on Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel, the…

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Strange Bedfellows: BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON (Taylor-Laughlin Distributing 1977)


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Billy Jack, hero of the oppressed, goes up against an enemy he can’t wrap his head around – the politicians of Washington, D.C. in BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, the final chapter in the Billy Jack saga. I know I harped on the fact that the last film, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK , didn’t contain enough action, and this one has even less, but I liked this film better. It’s a remake of Frank Capra’s 1939 classic MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Capra’s son is the producer), retooled for the modern era and casting Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack character in the Jimmy Stewart role. You’d think a forty-plus year old political film would be dated, but truth to tell, not a lot has changed since then… if anything, it’s gotten worse.

When Senator Foley has a heart attack and croaks, the powers-that-be look for a patsy to replace him…

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day: THE IRISH IN US (Warner Brothers 1935)


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Faith and begorrah! You can’t get much more Irish than a film featuring Jimmy Cagney , Pat O’Brien , and Frank McHugh all together. THE IRISH IN US is sentimental as an Irish lullaby, formulaic as a limerick, and full of blarney, but saints preserve us it sure is a whole lot of fun! The story concerns three Irish-American brothers, the O’Hara’s, living with their Irish mum in a cramped NYC apartment. There’s sensible, levelheaded cop Pat (O’Brien), dimwitted fireman Michael (McHugh), and ‘black sheep’ Danny (Cagney), who’s a fight promoter.

O’Brien, Cagney, and McHugh

Pat announces his intention to marry pretty Lucille Jackson (19-year-old Olivia de Havilland in an early role), while Danny’s got a new fighter named Carbarn Hammerschlog ( Allen Jenkins , who’s a riot), a punchy pug who “every time he hears a bell ring, he starts sluggin”! Danny and Lucille ‘meet cute’ while he’s out…

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A Movie A Day #57: Here Comes The Navy (1934, directed by Lloyd Bacon)


here_comes_the_navy_posterLisa asked me to review an old best picture nominee for today’s movie a day so I picked Here Comes The Navy, because hardly anyone has ever heard of it and I usually like old service comedies.

Chesty O’Connor (James Cagney) is a construction worker who thinks that he is tougher than anyone in the Navy.  When Chesty gets into a fight with Chief Petty Officer Biff Martin (Pat O’Brien), Chesty enlists in the Navy just to get on his nerves.  Chesty brings his friend Droopy (Frank McHugh) with him.  With Biff determined to force him out of the service, Chesty bristles against the rules of the Navy.  But then Chesty meets and falls in love with Dorothy (Gloria Stuart), Biff’s sister.  Chesty loses his bad attitude, proves that his shipmates can depend on him, saves Biff’s life when an airship landing goes wrong, and even gets to marry Biff’s sister.

Here Comes The Navy is a typical 1930s service comedy, distinguished mostly by the wiseguy presence of James Cagney.  It is the type of movie where men have names like Chesty, Biff, and Droopy.  Warner Bros. made a hundred versions of this story and Here Comes The Navy was certainly one of them.

Here Comes The Navy was produced with the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy, so it’s not surprising that it feels like a recruiting film.  The sailors are all happy to do their bit to protect the American way of life and the commanding officers are all tough but fair.  The majority of the movie was filmed on the USS Arizona, which would be sunk seven years later during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Here Comes The Navy also features some scenes shot on the USS Macon, an airship that would crash a year later.

It’s hard to guess how Here Comes The Navy came to be nominated for best picture.  It’s okay but, for the most part, it’s for James Cagney completists only.

 

The Holy Grail of Bad Cinema: THE PHYNX (Warner Brothers 1970)


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(WARNING: The movie I’m about to review is so bad, I can’t even find a proper poster for it. Beware… )

I was so excited when I  found out TCM was airing THE PHYNX at 4:00am!  I’d heard about how bad it for years now, and couldn’t wait to view it for myself today on my trusty DVR. I wasn’t disappointed, for THE PHYNX is a truly inept movie, so out of touch with its audience… and just what is its audience? We’ve got a Pre-Fab rock band, spy spoof shenanigans, wretched “comedy”, and cameos from movie stars twenty years past their prime. Just who was this movie made for, anyway?

The film defies description, but I’ll give it a whirl because, well because that’s what I do! We begin as a secret agent attempts to crash into Communist Albania in unsuccessful and unfunny ways, then segue into some psychedelic cartoons…

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