Film Review: Mean Johnny Barrows (dir by Fred Williamson)


“Dedicated to the veteran who traded his place on the front line for a place on the unemployment line. Peace is Hell.”

— the end credits of Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)

“He’s not that mean.”

— Me, while watch Mean Johnny Barrows

Who is Johnny Barrows?  As played by blaxploitation star Fred Williamson, Johnny Barrows is a former football great who later served in Vietnam and won several silver stars.  As a soldier, he killed an untold number of people but he is always quick to explain that he wouldn’t do the same thing as a civilian.  Even after the war ended, Johnny remained in the army, teaching new recruits.  He was good at his job but, one day, a racist officer decided to play a stupid trick on Johnny.  During a training exercise, that officer put a live landmine out on the training grounds.  After defusing the mine, Johnny promptly punched the officer.  The result?  A dishonorable discharge and the lesson that peace is Hell.

Johnny returns to Los Angeles and discovers that the country he fought for isn’t willing to fight for him.  Because of his dishonorable discharge, Johnny can’t find a good job.  Because he can’t find a job, he can’t afford a place to live.  Johnny stays on the streets.  His only friend is a self-described philosophy professor (Elliott Gould, in an amusing cameo) who teaches Johnny all about soup kitchens.

When Johnny steps into an Italian restaurant and asks for food, he is shocked to discover that the owner, Mario Racconi (Stuart Whitman), knows who he is.  Mario says that he played against Johnny in a high school football game.  (Perhaps Johnny’s shock is due to the fact that Mario appears to be at least ten years older than him.)  Mario gives Johnny something to eat and even offers him a job.  Realizing that the work is mob-related, Johnny says that he’s not interested.  He’s not going to break the law…

And here’s where we run into a problem with the film’s title.  The film is entitled Mean Johnny Barrows but, so far, he’s been almost painfully nice.  Then again, Mild Johnny Barrows doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

Anyway, Johnny does try to stay out of trouble.  He even manages to land a demeaning job cleaning the toilets at a gas station.  But his boss (R.G. Armstrong) is a real jerk and Johnny has his dignity, no matter how much the world wants to take it away from him.  Finally, Johnny agrees to work with the Racconi Family.  Not only does he become friends with Mario but he also falls for Mario’s girlfriend, Nancy (Jenny Sherman).

Unfortunately, not all Mafia families are as kind-hearted and generous as the Racconi Family.  The Da Vinci family wants to flood Los Angles with drugs.  It’s all the master plan of Tony Da Vinci (Roddy McDowall).  Tony is eager to prove himself to his father and what better way to do that than to smuggle heroin?  Tony also loves flowers because … well, why not?  Anyway, when the Racconis object to Tony’s scheme, a mob war erupts.  Nearly all of the Racconis are killed.  It looks like it’s time for Johnny Barrows to put on his white suit, pick up a gun, and get vengeance for his surrogate family.

There are some pretty obvious problems with Mean Johnny Barrows, not the least of which is the casting of Roddy McDowall — perhaps the least Italian actor in the history of cinema — as a ruthless mafioso.  After having starred in several successful blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson made his directorial debut with Mean Johnny Barrows.  Williamson’s inexperience as director shines through almost every minute of Mean Johnny Barrows.  Though he does well with the action scenes, there are other parts of the film where Williamson doesn’t even seem to be sure where he should point the camera.  With almost every role miscast, the performances are pretty inconsistent but Williamson gives a good performance (it’s obvious that he understood his strengths and weaknesses as an actor) and Elliott Gould is an entertaining oddity as the Professor.

If anything saves the film, it’s that Williamson’s anger at the way America treats its veterans feels sincere.  The heart of the film is in the first half, which details Johnny’s struggle to simply survive from one day to the next.  Even if Williamson’s direction is often shaky, the film’s rage is so authentic that you do get caught up in Johnny’s story.  The film ends on a properly down note, suggesting that, for men like Johnny Barrows, there is no hope to be found in America.

To quote the film’s theme song: Peace is Hell.

Recipe for Disaster: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (20th Century-Fox 1972)


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Although 1970’s AIRPORT is generally credited as the first “disaster movie”, it was 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE that made the biggest splash for the genre. Producer Irwin Allen loaded up his cast with five- count ’em!- Academy Award winners, including the previous year’s winner Gene Hackman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION ). The special effects laden extravaganza wound up nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2, and was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only THE GODFATHER!

And unlike many of the “disasters” that followed in its wake, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE holds up surprisingly well. The story serves as an instruction manual for all disaster movies to come. First, introduce your premise: The S.S. Poseidon is sailing on its final voyage, and Captain Leslie Nielsen is ordered by the new ownership to go full steam ahead, despite the ship no longer being in ship-shape. (You won’t be able to take…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Longest Day (dir by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, and Darryl F. Zanuck)


As my sister has already pointed out, today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.  With that in mind, and as a part of my ongoing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I decided to watch the 1962 film, The Longest Day!

The Longest Day is a pain-staking and meticulous recreation of invasion of Normandy, much of it filmed on location.  It was reportedly something of a dream project for the head of the 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck set out to make both the ultimate tribute to the Allied forces and the greatest war movie ever.  Based on a best seller, The Longest Day has five credited screenwriters and three credited directors.  (Ken Annakin was credited with “British and French exteriors,” Andrew Marton did “American exteriors,” and the German scenes were credited to Bernhard Wicki.  Oddly, Gerd Oswald was not credited for his work on the parachuting scenes, even though those were some of the strongest scenes in the film.)  Even though he was not credited as either a screenwriter or a director, it is generally agreed that the film ultimately reflected the vision of Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck not only rewrote the script but he also directed a few scenes as well.  The film had a budget of 7.75 million dollars, which was a huge amount in 1962.  (Until Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, The Longest Day was the most expensive black-and-white film ever made.)  Not only did the film tell an epic story, but it also had an epic length.  Clocking in at 3 hours, The Longest Day was also one of the longest movies to ever be nominated for best picture.

The Longest Day also had an epic cast.  Zanuck assembled an all-star cast for his recreation of D-Day.  If you’re like me and you love watching old movies on TCM, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces go rushing by during the course of The Longest Day.  American generals were played by actors like Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne.  Peter Lawford, then the brother-in-law of the President of the United States, had a memorable role as the Scottish Lord Lovat, who marched through D-Day to the sounds of bagpipes.  When the Allied troops storm the beach, everyone from Roddy McDowall to Sal Mineo to Robert Wagner to singer Paul Anka can be seen dodging bullets.  Sean Connery pops up, speaking in his Scottish accent and providing comic relief.  When a group of paratroopers parachute into an occupied village, comedian Red Buttons ends up hanging from the steeple of a church.  When Richard Beymer (who is currently playing Ben Horne on Twin Peaks) gets separated from his squad, he stumbles across Richard Burton.  Among those representing the French are Arletty and Christian Marquand.  (Ironically, after World War II, Arletty was convicted of collaborating with the Germans and spent 18 months under house arrest.  Her crime was having a romantic relationship with a German soldier.  It is said that, in response to the charges, Arletty said, “My heart is French but my ass is international.”)  Meanwhile, among the Germans, one can find three future Bond villains: Gert Frobe, Curt Jurgens, and Walter Gotell.

It’s a big film and, to be honest, it’s too big.  It’s hard to keep track of everyone and, even though the battle scenes are probably about an intense as one could get away with in 1962 (though it’s nowhere near as effective as the famous opening of Saving Private Ryan, I still felt bad when Jeffrey Hunter and Eddie Albert were gunned down), their effectiveness is compromised by the film’s all-star approach.  Often times, the action threatens to come to a halt so that everyone can get their close-up.  Unfortunately, most of those famous faces don’t really get much of a chance to make an impression.  Even as the battle rages, you keep getting distracted by questions like, “Was that guy famous or was he just an extra?”

Among the big stars, most of them play to their personas.  John Wayne, for instance, may have been cast as General Benjamin Vandervoort but there’s never any doubt that he’s playing John Wayne.  When he tells his troops to “send them to Hell,” it’s not Vandervoort giving orders.  It’s John Wayne representing America.  Henry Fonda may be identified as being General Theodore Roosevelt II but, ultimately, you react to him because he’s Henry Fonda, a symbol of middle-American decency.  Neither Wayne nor Fonda gives a bad performance but you never forget that you’re watching Fonda and Wayne.

Throughout this huge film, there are bits and pieces that work so well that you wish the film had just concentrated on them as opposed to trying to tell every single story that occurred during D-Day.  I liked Robert Mitchum as a tough but caring general who, in the midst of battle, gives a speech that inspires his troops to keep fighting.  The scenes of Peter Lawford marching with a bagpiper at his side were nicely surreal.  Finally, there’s Richard Beymer, wandering around the French countryside and going through the entire day without firing his gun once.  Beymer gets the best line of the film when he says, “I wonder if we won.”  It’s such a modest line but it’s probably the most powerful line in the film.  I wish The Longest Day had more scenes like that.

The Longest Day was nominated for best picture of 1962 but it lost to an even longer film, Lawrence of Arabia.

A Movie A Day #114: Scavenger Hunt (1979, directed by Michael Schultz)


When game designer Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies, all of his greedy relatives and his servants gather for the reading of his will.  Parker’s lawyer, Benstein (Robert Morley), explains that Parker is leaving behind a $200 million dollar estate to whoever can win an elaborate scavenger hunt.  Dividing into five teams, the beneficiaries head out to track down as many items as they can by five o’clock that evening.  Among the items that they have to find: a toilet, a cash register, an ostrich, a microscope, and an obese person.  Hardy har har.

The five teams are made up of a who’s who of sitcom and television actors who had time to kill in 1979.  The Odd Couple‘s Tony Randall is Henry Motely, who is Parker’s son-in-law and who works with his four children.  Soap‘s Richard Mulligan plays a blue-collar taxi driver named Marvin Dummitz (because funny names are funny) who teams up with his friend, Merle (Stephen Furst).  The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Cloris Leachman (an Oscar winner, no less) gets stuck with the role of Milton’s greedy sister, Mildred.  She works with her conniving lawyer (Richard Benjamin) and her stupid son (Richard Masur).  Maureen Teefy plays Milton’s niece while his nephews are played by Willie Aames and Dirk Benedict.  Cleavon Little, James Coco, Roddy McDowall, and Stephanie Faracy play the servants.

It doesn’t stop there, though.  Avery Schreiber plays a zookeeper.  Meat Loaf plays a biker who beats up Richard Benjamin.  Ruth Gordon, Stuart Pankin, Pat McCormick, and Scatman Crothers all have cameos.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appearance as a gym instructor who knocks Tony Randall out of a second story window.

There are a lot of famous people in Scavenger Hunt.  It’s just too bad that the movie itself is barely watchable and not at all funny.  It tries to go for the zaniness of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but, unless watching Willie Aames steal a clown head from Jack in the Box is your idea of hilarity, the film never comes close to succeeding.  Michael Schultz directed some classic films (like Car Wash) during the 1970s but, unfortunately, he also directed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and this.

Scavenger Hunt used to show up on a late night television, where it was always advertised as starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (He barely has five minutes of screentime.)  It was released on DVD/Blu-ray earlier this year but watching for the cameos is the only reason to take part in this Scavenger Hunt.

A Movie A Day #66: Deadly Game (1991, directed by Thomas J. Wright)


Seven strangers are invited to a remote island by a mysterious billionaire named Osiris.  There is a doctor, a dancer, an auto mechanic, a mercenary, a football player and his agent, and a member of the Yakuza.  The auto mechanic points out that, in Egyptian mythology, Osiris judged mankind’s sins.  For some reason, none of the seven think twice about going to the island but, once they arrive, they soon discover that they should have.  Osiris is willing to give them seven million dollars but to get it, they have to reach the other end of the island without being killed by Osiris or his men.

Of the many movie adaptations of The Most Dangerous Game, this is probably the worst.  The cast, which includes Michael Beck, Marc Singer, Jenny Seagrove, Mitch Ryan, John Pleshette, Soon-Tek Oh, and Roddy McDowall, isn’t bad but the script is terrible, full of overwrought dialogue and plot holes.  Across the island, Osiris has left clues that are designed to trigger flashbacks and lead to each member of the seven explaining what it is that they did in the past.  But for that to work, Osiris would have to know exactly what route the seven of them were going to use to cross the island and he would also have to know who would still be alive by the time that they came across each clue.  Also, whenever they come across the clue, everyone stands around and wastes valuable time arguing about it.  Considering that there are armed men trying to kill them, no one seems to be in that much of a hurry to make it to the other side of the island.  The flashbacks themselves are interesting in how clumsily they are put together.  40ish Marc Singer plays himself as a senior in high school.

Like Hitler’s Daughter, Deadly Game was originally made for the USA network.  The first time I saw it was in the UK where, for some reason, it seemed to air frequently during the mid-1990s.  (Possibly this was because it starred quintessential Hollywood Brit Roddy McDowall.  That’s the only reason I can think of.)  It’s now on YouTube, for anyone who wants to sit through it.

Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)


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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Back To School Part II #3: Lord Love A Duck (dir by George Axelrod)


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For my third Back to School review, I watched the 1966 satire, Lord Love A Duck!

Hey hey hey!

I have to admit that, because I’m writing this review in a hurry and because the D and the F key are located right next to each other, I keep accidentally calling this film Lord Love A Fuck.  Somehow, that seems appropriate because Lord Love A Duck is a very odd and subversive little movie that deals with people who are largely motivated by lust and I’m pretty sure that, at one point, Roddy McDowall is seen saying, “Fuck off!” but, of course, we don’t actually hear him say it.  But seriously, Lord Love A Duck is a weird movie.

Hey hey hey!

Roddy McDowall plays Alan Musgrave, a student at a “progressive” high school in California.  Roddy was about 37 years old when he played a high school senior and he doesn’t look like a teenager at all but somehow, it’s appropriate.  After all, Alan is no ordinary teenager!  He’s smarter than everyone else.  He’s wittier than everyone else.  He’s more clever than everyone else.  He’s also totally obsessive and willing to do just about anything to get what he wants.  And you can be sure of one thing: whenever Alan does something borderline insane, you’ll hear a group of singers harmonizing, “Hey hey hey!” in the background.

Hey hey hey!

See, it’s happening already.  It doesn’t matter what Alan’s doing.  He could be kicking a skateboard in the way of a romantic rival.  He could be interrupting the graduation ceremony with a tractor.  He could be going to prison for life.  No matter what it is, it will always be accompanied by:

Hey hey hey!

Anyway, Alan is in love with the innocent, sweet, and constantly flirtatious Barbara Anne Greene (Tuesday Weld).  In fact, almost everyone in the film is in love with (or, at the very least, turned on by) Barbara.  The only person who doesn’t seem to be in love with Barbara is her mother (Lola Albright), a former-beauty-turned-cocktail-waitress whose world-weary cynicism seems to offer a depressing hint of what’s in store for Barbara once she gets older.

Hey hey hey!

But everyone else loves Barbara.  Especially Alan!  In fact, Alan is so in love with her that he swears that he’s going to make sure that she gets everything that she wants.  When she needs 12 cashmere sweaters so that she can join an exclusive girl’s club, Alan helps her to convince her father (Max Showalter) to pay for them.  When Barbara needs a job after dropping out of school, Alan helps her get one as a secretary for the high school’s progressive principal (Harvey Korman).  When Barbara decides she wants to marry the boring but respectable Christian youth leader, Bob (Martin West), Alan keeps Bob’s mother (Ruth Gordon) so drunk that she doesn’t get a chance to reprimand her son for falling in love with a girl from a divorced family.  (As Bob’s mother explains it, she doesn’t believe in divorce.  “We don’t leave our husbands.  We bury them.”)  Eventually, a movie producer decides that he wants Barbara to star in his beach films but Bob says no.  No wife of his is going to be a movie star!  So, of course, Alan decides to murder Bob so that Barbara can again have what she wants…

Hey hey hey!

Lord Love A Duck is a manic comedy that satirizes everything that mainstream audiences in 1966 would have held sacred.  Teenagers, conservatives, liberals, love, hate, murder, justice, marriage, divorce, morality, sex, religion, television, movies — it’s all thoroughly ridiculed in this film.  (It’s not surprising that the film’s director also wrote the script for The Manchurian Candidate, a satire disguised as a thriller.)  To be honest, it’s probably a little bit too manic for its own good.  At times, the film run the risk of becoming exhausting.  But then there’s even more times when the film is absolutely brilliant.

Hey hey hey!

Speaking of absolutely brilliant, Lord Love A Duck makes brilliant use of Roddy McDowall’s eccentric screen presence but, even better, it features one of Tuesday Weld’s best performances.  Weld was a talented actress whose performances often revealed that a fragile soul is often the price that is payed for great beauty.  (There’s no greater insecurity than wondering whether people are responding to who you are or to how you look.  Would you still care if I was ugly is not a question we’re supposed to ask but it’s one that we’ve all wondered.)  It would have been far too easy to make Barbara either totally innocent or totally manipulative.  Wisely, the film does neither.  Barbara may occasionally be manipulative but she always means well.  It’s not her fault that everyone around her is either idiotic or insane.

Hey hey hey!

Though Lord Love A Duck is obviously a time capsule of the culture of mid-60s, it’s also a film that remains relevant even today.  Culturally, we’re still obsessed with fame, youth, and beauty.  In many ways, the satire of Lord Love A Duck still feels more extreme that anything that any contemporary filmmaker would dare to attempt.  I can only imagine what audiences in 1966 thought as they watched this subversive teen film.

Hey hey hey!