Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, Fantasy Island is all about confronting the mistakes of the past.

Episode 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”

(Dir by Allen Baron and John Newland, originally aired on April 29th, 1978)

Before I talk about the two fantasies in this episode, here’s a bit of trivia.  This episode was originally intended to be the first episode of the series.  That perhaps explains why it has a tone that is more similar to the original TV movie than to the more light-hearted episodes that followed.  Just as in the made-for-TV movie, Mr. Roarke is a bit of an enigma in this episode, one who has little trouble manipulating his guests in order to get the results that he wants.  This episode even ends with Tattoo saying, “Thank God,” and Mr. Roarke replying with a mysterious half-smile.  Roarke isn’t quite as sinister as he was in the TV movie but he’s also not quite the cheery host that he would become in later episodes.  Roarke, at one point, also mentions that he has people who research everyone’s fantasy before choosing whether to grant it.  That’s certainly different from later episodes, in which the fantasies are apparently available to anyone who can pay or who has been lucky enough to win Roarke’s sympathy.

Of course, when it came time to air the first season of Fantasy Island, this episode got pushed back and it aired as the eleventh episode.  As a result, it presents a bit of a change-of-pace from the episodes that aired the weeks before.  One can only imagine how someone who decided to start watching the show because of the fantasy where Don Knotts played a private eye reacted to this episode, in which four guests were stalked by a murderer who wore giallo-style black gloves.

The guests being stalked by the murderer are Agnes (Pamela Franklin), Hannah (Hilarie Thompson), Carol (Michele Lee), and Jill (Sue Loyon).  They are all members of the Honeybees, a group of former high school cheerleaders who are having a ten-year reunion.  Their fantasy is to spend the weekend at a recreation of the Beehive, a cabin where they used to hang out while in high school.  Of course, every one of them has a dark secret and, after one of the Honeybees is apparently blown up in a nearby barn, the three remaining Honeybees have to solve the mystery.  It all gets fairly dark and sordid but, fear not!  Mr. Roarke shows up and even takes part in some hand-to-hand combat before revealing the truth about what is going on at the Beehive.

(Again, this is not something that we would normally expect from Mr. Roarke.)

Meanwhile, troubled couple Toni (Lucie Arnaz) and Tom Elgin (Ronny Cox, looking slightly embarrassed) come to the island for their anniversary!  Toni wants to relive the weekend that they got married, when they were still happy and before Tom became a drunk.  All of their old friends are invited to the island and soon, Tom is flirting with another woman while Toni is flirting with another man.  Mr. Roarke even invites Rev. Allen (Stuart Nisbet), the man who performed the original wedding ceremony.  The reverend explains that, due to a mix-up at the licensing office, he wasn’t actually legally allowed to perform marriages when Toni and Tom get married so it turns out that Tom and Toni have been living in sin all this time!  Now, Tom and Toni have to decide whether to get married for real or to go their separate ways.

I vote for separate ways, just because they really do seem to be miserable together.  However, it turns out that Mr. Roarke has a plan to keep this awful couple together.

The decision to move this episode from the start of the season to the latter half was definitely a good one.  It was probably a bit too dark and dramatic to really work as the premiere episode but, as the 11th episode, it provides a nice change-of-pace.  After several comedic and somewhat shallow episodes, this episode emphasizes the dramatic side of Fantasy Island.  In this episode, the ultimate lesson appears to be that fantasies are fun but that it’s far more important to deal with the real world.  In other words, Fantasy Island is a nice place to visit but only Mr. Roarke and Tattoo should live there.

Who Is The Black Dahlia? (1975, directed by Joseph Pevney)


In 1947 Los Angeles, the body of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short is discovered in an empty lot.  Short, who was nicknamed The Black Dahlia because she always wore black, was an aspiring actress who was violently tortured before being chopped in half.  Her murder remains one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

In this made-for-television movie, Ronny Cox and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. play the two detectives who are assigned to investigate Short’s murder.  Though they struggle to find any clues identifying who could have killed Short, they do learn about her life and how she went from being a naïve innocent who came to Hollywood with stars in her eyes to being a hardened and cynical woman who may have been supporting herself through sex work when she was murdered.  The film makes use of frequent flashbacks, in which Elizabeth Short is played by Lucie Arnaz.  Her friends and acquaintances are played by familiar television faces like Henry Jones, Mercedes McCambridge, June Lockhart, Brooke Adams, Donna Mills, and Tom Bosley.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Sid Haig, playing a tattoo artist.

What Elizabeth Short went through over the course of her short time in Hollywood was probably too graphic to be put on television in the 70s but this movie still does a good job of recounting the basic facts of her life and murder.  Because the film is based on fact, no one is ever arrested for Short’s murder.  The only suspect is a doctor who turns out to have an alibi.  The movie instead focuses on Short trying make it in Hollywood and discovering that it’s a cruel town.  Lucie Arnaz was far better than I was expecting in the role of Elizabeth and brought a lot of vulnerability to the role.  The film ended with a title card, asking anyone who had information about the murder of Elizabeth Short to call the LAPD.  The case remains open to this day.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Scissors (dir by Frank De Felitta)


The plot of the 1991 film, Scissors, is not easy to describe. That’s not because the plot is particularly clever as much as it’s because it doesn’t make much sense.

Basically, Sharon Stone plays a woman named Angela Anderson. She is oddly obsessed with scissors and terrified about getting close to anyone. She’s been getting hypnotherapy from Dr. Carter (Ronny Cox) in an effort to understand why she’s so repressed but she doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. This could possibly have something to do with the fact that Dr. Carter is continually distracted by the adulterous activities of his wife, Ann (Michelle Phillips).

Angela lives in a lonely but surprisingly big apartment with only her cat for company. Her cat is named Midnight and he’s a black cat so he automatically became my favorite character in the film. Living next door to her are two twin brothers. Alex (Steve Railsback) is a soap opera star. Cole (Railsback, again) is an artist in a wheelchair who continually paints cartoonish pictures of Angela being attacked by a man with a big red beard.

Then, one day, Angela goes out to buy some scissors. When she returns and gets on the elevator to head back up to her apartment, she’s attacked by a man …. A MAN WITH A RED BEARD! Fortunately, Angela is able to stab him with her scissors. After the man with the red beard runs off, Angela is discovered in the elevator by Alex and Cole. Alex and Angela fall in love. Cole’s not too happy about that.

Following so far?

Angela get a call about a job interview, one that requires her to go to a stranger’s apartment. Despite the fact that the film has spent nearly an hour setting up Angela as being intensely agoraphobic, she has no problem going to this apartment. However, once she enters the apartment, she finds herself locked in! She also discovers that the red-bearded man is also in the apartment. Fortunately, he’s dead. Unfortunately, it appears that he was killed by Angela’s scissors. There’s also a raven in the apartment. The raven continually taunts Angela, saying, “You killed him!” Let’s just be happy that Edgar Allan Poe wasn’t around to see this.

Trapped in the apartment, Angela has flashbacks to her past. Is Angela the murderer? Is all of this just happening in her mind? Or is someone trying to drive her over the edge?

Though Scissors is set up as a psychological horror film, it’s really more of an extended acting exercise for Sharon Stone. Stone wanders around the apartment. She talks to herself. She had a nervous breakdown or two. She discusses life with a puppet. Every single scene seems to be designed to make audiences go, “Wow, she really can act!” but, despite all of the histrionics on display, Angela is still a very one note character. By making her obviously unstable from the start, the film doesn’t really leave the character with much room to develop or take us by surprise. The film attempts to end on a bit of an ambiguous note as far as Angela’s character is concerned but that type of ambiguity has to be earned. There’s nothing to Stone’s performance to indicate that there’s anything about Angela that isn’t totally on the surface. To suggest that there was more to her than originally appeared is to insult the audience’s ability to discern hidden depths.

The film does eventually wrap up its mystery and present a solution of sorts. Unfortunately, it’s a totally unsatisfying solution and one that’s dependent on otherwise intelligent people coming up with a ludicrously overcomplicated scheme to deal with one not particularly complicated problem. It’s all pretty forgettable but at least the cat survives.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Steele Justice (dir by Robert Boris)


“You don’t recruit him!  You unleash him!”

That’s what they say about John Steele, the man who Martin Kove plays in 1987’s Steele Justice.  John Steele served in Vietnam and he was one of the best and most fearless members of the special forces.  On the final day of the war, he was on the verge of arresting the corrupt General Kwan (Soon-Tek Oh) until Kwan suddenly announced that the war was over and the Americans were leaving.  Steele laughed, shrugged, and turned his back on Kwan and started to walk away.  Was Steele planning on just walking back to America?  Well, regardless, Kwan shot Steele and his friend in the back.  Fortunately, Steele survived.  Steele may be stupid but he’s strong.

Years later, both Steele and Kwan are now living in California.  Kwan is a prominent businessman who is also the secret leader of the Vietnamese mafia.  Naturally, his main henchman is played by Al Leong.  If Al Leong’s not working for you, are you even evil?  John Steele has not been quite as successful.  He was a cop until he got kicked off the force.  Then he got a job transporting horses across California.  Despite his cool guy name, John Steele doesn’t seem to be that good at anything that doesn’t involve killing people.

But then Kwan murders Steele’s best friend and former partner, Lee (Robert Kim).  In fact, Kawn not only murders Lee but he also kills Lee’s entire family.  The only survivor is Lee’s daughter, Cami (Jan Gan Boyd), a piano prodigy who is supposed to be 14 years old even though she’s being played by someone who is in her 20s.  Steele and Lee’s former boss, Bennett (Ronny Cox), gives Steele permission to track down the people responsible for Lee’s death.

John Steele sets out to destroy Kwan.  The film gives us a lot of reasons to be on Steele’s side but it’s hard not to notice that a lot of innocent people end up getting killed as a result of Steele’s vendetta.  Any time that Steele goes anywhere, Kwan’s people attack and a bunch of innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire.  For example, Steele’s ex, Tracy (Sela Ward), agrees to look after Cami.  It turns out that Tracy is a music video director and, of course, she takes Cami to work with her.  The video shoot turns into a bloodbath, with even the members of the band getting gunned down.  And yet, not even Tracy seems to be particularly disturbed by that.  One might think that Tracy would at least sarcastically say something like, “Hey, John, thanks for getting the band killed before I got paid,” but no.  Tracy just kind of laughs it all off.  At no point does Steele or Bennett or really anyone seem to feel bad about all of the people who get killed as a result of the decision to unleash John Steele.  Those people had hopes and dreams too, you know.

I really like Martin Kove on Cobra Kai.  I love how his portrayal of the over-the-hill and burned-out John Kreese manages to be both intimidating and pathetic at the same time.  I’ve also seen a number of interviews with Kove, in which he’s discussed his career as an exploitation mainstay and he always comes across as being well-spoken and intelligent.  That said, Martin Kove appears to be totally lost in Steele Justice, unsure if he should be playing John Steele as a grim-faced avenger or as a quick-with-a-quip action hero.  Whenever Steele is angry, Kove looks like he’s on the verge of tears.  Whenever Steele makes a joke, Kove smiles like an overage frat boy who, while cleaning out his old storage unit, has just discovered his long lost copy of Bumfights.  It’s a confused performance but, to be honest, no one really comes out of Steele Justice looking good.  This is a film that features a lot of talented actors looking completely and totally clueless as to why they’re there.

On the plus side, Steele Justice did give this world this totally intimidating shot of Martin Kove, preparing to be get and give justice.  Recruit him?  No, just unleash him!

In The Line of Duty: The FBI Murders (1988, directed by Dick Lowry)


Last night, after I wrote up my review of the last In The Line of Duty movie, I checked and discovered that the first In The Line of Duty movie is now available on YouTube.

In The Line of Duty: The FBI Murders is the one that started it all.  This was the first installment and it set the general format of all the In The Line of Duty films to follow.  It was based on a true story.  The movie was evenly split between the criminals and the members of the law enforcement trying to catch them.  Here, the criminals were two bank robbers played by David Soul and, in an effective turn against type, Michael Gross.  (When this film was released, Gross was best known as the wimpy father on Family Ties.  Today, he’s better known as the survivalist from the Tremors films.  He went on to play cops in two subsequent In The Line of Duty films.)  The FBI agents pursuing them were played by Ronny Cox, Bruce Greenwood, and several other recognizable TV actors.

The FBI Murders was not only the first In The Line of Duty film but it was also the best.  All of the subsequent installments, both good and bad, pale in comparison.  Though the story is familiar and the foreshadowing is sometimes obvious (“Try not to get shot,” one FBI agent’s wife tells him), The FBI Murders still holds up today because of the strong cast and Dick Lowry’s direction of the final shootout between the cops and the criminals.  No matter how many times David Soul gets shot, he keeps getting up and firing more rounds.  Making this part of the film all the more effective is that it’s based on fact.  During the actual incident, the real-life criminals played by Soul and Gross continued firing and killing even though they had been shot a tremendous number of times.  Remarkably, it was discovered that neither had been on any type of pain-killing drug at the time.  Instead, they were determined to just keep shooting until the end.  Though the two men were outnumbered by the FBI, the agents were not prepared to go up against the military-grade weapons that the men were carrying with them.

The actors who play the FBI agents are all effective, especially Ronny Cox as the veteran who has seen it all.  As with the other In The Line of Duty films, a lot of time is spend showing the comradery between the agents and how, even when they’re not at work, they’re all still together.  In other In The Line of Duty films, the comradery could sometimes feel forced but, in The FBI Murders, it feels natural and scenes like Bruce Greenwood’s character finally getting a nickname and one of the older agents deciding to go on a stakeout just for old times sake carry a lot more emotional weight than you might expect.  It makes the final shootout all the more powerful.

Eleven more In The Line of Duty films would follow but none of them would top The FBI Murders.

Film Review: Robocop (dir by Paul Verhoeven)


Last week, I watched the original Robocop (along with Robocop 2 and Robocop 3) and I have to say that the first film holds up far better than I was expecting. Made and released way back in 1987, Robocop may be one of the most prophetic films ever made.

Consider the plot:

America is torn apart by crime and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. That was probably true in 1987 and it’s certainly true in 2021.

Throughout the film, we see news reports about what’s happening in the world. The news is always grim but the reporters are always cheerful and the main message is that, no matter what’s happening, the government is not to blame and anyone who questions the wisdom of the establishment is a fool. If that’s not a perfect description of cable news and our current state-run media, I don’t know what is.

The populace is often too busy watching stupid game shows to really pay attention to what’s happening all around them. I’m writing these words on a Wednesday, which means that Game of Talents will be on Fox tonight, immediately after The Masked Singer.

Detroit, a once proud center of industry, has now turned into a dystopian Hellhole where no one feels that they’re safe. Now, I don’t live in Detroit so I don’t know how true that is but I do know that most of the recent news that I’ve heard about the city has not exactly been positive. Also, this seems like a good time to point out that, even though the film is set in Detroit, it was shot in Dallas. Though the Dallas skyline has undoubtedly changed a bit since 1987, I still recognized several buildings while watching Robocop. Seeing Reunion Tower in the background of a movie that’s supposed to be set in Detroit was interesting, though perhaps not as interesting as seeing our City Hall transformed into the headquarters of Detroit’s beleaguered police force.

OCP, a multi-national conglomerate that’s run by the amoral but occasionally charming Old Man (played by the brilliant Dan O’Herlihy), has a contract with city of Detroit to run their police department. This certainly doesn’t seem far-fetched in 2021. Considering that we now have prisons that are run by private companies and that the government has shown a willingness to work with private mercenaries overseas, it’s not a stretch to imagine a city — especially one on the verge of bankruptcy — handing over the police department to a private company.

Two OCP executives — Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) — are competing to see who can be the first to create and develop a peace-keeping robot, a machine that will replace the need to employ (and pay) human police officers. Dick Jones goes with an actual robot, which malfunctions during a boardroom demonstration and guns down another executive. (The scene where the poor exec is targeted is both terrifying and darkly humorous at the same time. Particularly disturbing is how everyone in the boardroom keeps shoving him back towards the robot in order to ensure that they won’t accidentally be in the line of fire.) Bob Morton, however, takes a mortally wounded cop named Murphy (Peter Weller) and turns him into Robocop!

Robocop turns out to be a huge success and is very popular with the media. (Anyone who doubts this would really happen has obviously never watched news coverage of a drone attack.) As you can guess, Dick is not particularly happy about getting shown up by Morton and his robocop. Dick also happens to be secretly in league with Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), the crimelord who blew Murphy apart in the first place.

(A gangster and a businessman working together!? I doubt that was shocking even in 1987.)

Robocop claims that he’s just a machine, without a past or emotions, but he’s still haunted by random flashes of his life as Murphy. Working with Lewis (Nancy Allen), Murphy’s former partner, Robocop tracks down Boddicker and his gang. A lot of people die in outrageously violent ways. (The scene where Boddicker and his gang use a shotgun to torture Murphy is still shocking, even after all these years.) The violence is so over-the-top that it soon becomes obvious that director Paul Verhoeven is deliberately trying to get those of us watching to ask ourselves why we find films like this to be so entertaining. On the one hand, Robocop is an exciting action film with a sense of humor. On the other hand, it’s the type of subversive satire of pop and trash culture to which Verhoeven would return with Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. This is the type of film that asks the audience, “What are you doing here?”

34 years after it was first made, Robocop remains a triumph. Peter Weller’s performance holds up well, as he does a great job of capturing Robocop’s anguish while, at the same time, never forgetting that the character is ultimately a machine, one that’s trapped in a sort of permanent limbo. I also really liked the performance of Miguel Ferrer, who takes a character who should be unlikable and instead makes him into a surprisingly sympathetic figure.

Of course, a film like this lives and dies on the strength of its villains and both Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith are ideally cast as Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker. Kurtwood Smith especially took me by surprise by how believably evil and frightening he was. As a I watched the film, I realized that it was his glasses that made him so intimidating. Wearing his glasses, he looked like some sort of rogue poet, a sociopathic intellectual who had chosen to use his talents to specifically make the world into a terrible place. Boddicker’s crew was full of familiar actors like Paul McCrane, Ray Wise, and, as the always laughing Joe Cox, Jesse Goins. Interestingly enough, all of the bad guys seemed to genuinely be friends. Even though they were all willing to betray each other (“Can you fly Bobby?”), they also seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. That somehow made them even more disturbing than a group of bad guys who were only in it for the money. The villains in Robocop really do seem to savor the chance to show off just how evil they can be.

(Incidentally, for all of the Twin Peaks fans out there, this film features three members of the show’s ensemble: Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, and Dan O’Herlihy.)

Robocop holds up well as entertainment, prophecy, and satire. Though not much was expected from it when it was first released, it became a surprise hit at the box office. Needless to say, this led to a sequel. I’ll deal with that film in about an hour.

The Car: Road to Revenge, Review by Case Wright


Happy Horrorthon! I warn you that this post might look …. weird. My Chrome version of wordpress has been possessed. There’s NO OTHER EXPLANATION! EVER!

The Car: Road To Revenge is a sequel to The Car from 1977…. MINDBENDER! No wonder I feel like having a key party and getting an orange couch… Dramatization:

This film was written after Death Race 2050 – ALT Title: Miffed Max: Budget Road, Reviewed like a boss! also by G. J. Echternkamp. I have to write that G.J. is a genuinely nice person and these are great genre films. I could easily see Bruce Campbell starring in a Echternkamp movie. Believe me, I have some ideas….G.J. …DM me. 😉 really! Car 2 is set in a dystopian future, but really it didn’t seem any worse than Seattle today. Car 2 had fancy cars, embattled police, and shitty local government, and lawlessness; if you threw in some drizzle, I’d be right at home.

The film begins with Caddock (Jamie Bamber) of Battlestar Galactica fame. He’s a possessive and corrupt prosecutor who is in an on again off again thing with Daria (Kathleen Munroe). Apparently, he gets an evil computer chip that everyone wants … for some reason. I never fully understood why they wanted the chip or why they’d kill Caddock for it. Did the chip have the recipe for Coca Cola? Were they hardcore gamers? Did it have the latest version of Microsoft Word?

Caddock puts the evil chip into his car and it does …. something. I wasn’t really sure what it did, but when the bad guys go after Caddock for it and kill him, the chip causes Caddock to possess the car. Caddock Car spends the rest of the movie avenging his own death and trying to get Daria to be his … Car Girlfriend? I wasn’t sure how that Daria/Caddock Car consummation would work, but I know she’d have to use plenty of Jiffy Lube or maybe they could MAACO out for a while. I’m not saying it would be a AAA session, but maybe they could get used to it and have a GOODYEAR or two.

Caddock’s murder/slash possession puts Ranier (Grant Bowler) on the case. By on the case, he basically drinks a lot and gets into the pants of Daria. Bad idea because Caddock Car is possessive is it like Daria’s all Meineke and tries to run over Ranier…a lot. Then, the movie gets…weird. The bad guys who want the chip, kill or try to kill A LOT of people to get the chip. Why? It will apparently improve their body augmentations and I don’t mean like the piercings on a Seattle Soccer Mom…. I mean Robotech stuff. Caddock Car manages to squish most of his enemies to death and I mean jump on a Capri-Sun when you’re bored at your kid’s soccer game squish.

Caddock Car eventually gets the majority of his revenge. I had trouble figuring out who to root for sometimes, but I guess it was Daria. She was pretty badass and eventually kills Caddock Car, but Caddock Car is avenging his murder…so, maybe him too. Anyway, Caddock Car gets driven into the bottom of a …lake? Quarry? Large above ground pool? I could not really tell where the car ended up, but it’s dead…or is it???

Happy Horrorthon!!!!

Favorite Son (1988, directed by Jeff Bleckner)


During a reception on the steps of U.S. Capitol, an assassin kills Contra leader Col. Martinez (Geno Silva) and seriously wounds Sen. Terry Fallon (Harry Hamlin), an up-and-coming politician from Texas.  An eager media catapults Fallon to national stardom and the beleagued President (James Whitmore), who is facing a tough reelection bid, is pressured to replace the current vice president (Mitchell Ryan) with Fallon.

The FBI only assigns two of their agents to investigate the assassination, a sure sign that someone wants the investigation to just go away.  Nick Mancuso (Robert Loggia) is a crusty, hard-drinking veteran agent whose career is nearly at an end.  David Ross (Lance Guest) is his young and idealistic partner.  When Mancuso and Ross discover that Martinez was injected with the HIV virus just two days before the assassination, it becomes obvious that there is a bigger conspiracy afoot.  It all links back to Sally Crain (Linda Kozlowski), who is Fallon’s legislative aide and also his lover.  (Fallon has a wife but she’s locked away in a hospital.)  Sally has an interest in bondage, as Ross soon finds out.

Favorite Son was originally aired as a 3-night, 4 and a half-hour miniseries.  It was later reedited and, with a running time of less than two hours, released theatrically overseas as Target: Favorite Son.  As a miniseries, Favorite Son is an exciting conspiracy-themed film that is full of scheming, plotting, interesting performances, and pungent dialogue.  Target: Favorite Son, on the other hand, is disjointed and, unless you know the original’s plot, almost impossible to follow.  If you’re going to watch Favorite Son, make sure you see the original miniseries.  My mom taped it off of NBC when it originally aired.  That was the only way that I was able to originally see the film the way that it meant to be seen.  The entire miniseries has also been uploaded, in three parts, to YouTube.

Hopefully, the original miniseries will get an official release someday because it’s pretty damn entertaining.  Harry Hamlin isn’t really dynamic enough for the role of Fallon but otherwise, the movie is perfectly cast.  Robert Loggia is so perfect for the role of Nick Mancuso that it almost seems as if the character was written for him.  (Loggia did later star in a one-season drama called Mancuso, FBI.)  Linda Kozlowski seems to be destined to be forever known as Crocodile Dundee’s wife but her performance as Sally shows that she was a better actress than she was given credit for.  The supporting cast also features good performances from Jason Alexander, Ronny Cox, Tony Goldwyn, John Mahoney, Kenneth McMillian, Richard Bradford, and Jon Cypher.

Favorite Son may be over 30 years old but it’s still relevant today.  In the third part, John Mahoney gives a speech about how American voters are often willfully ignorant when it comes to what’s going on behind the scenes in Washington and it’s a killer moment.  Melodramatic as Favorite Son may be, with its portrayal of political chicanery and an exploitative national media, it’s still got something to say that’s worth hearing.

 

American Outlaws (2001, directed by Les Mayfield)


Returning to their hometown in Missouri in the days following the end of the Civil War, former Confederate guerrillas Jesse James (Colin Farrell) and Cole Younger (Scott Caan) are disgusted to discover that the railroad companies are trying to take over everyone’s land.  After Cole’s cousin and Jesse’s mother are killed by railway thugs, Jesse and Cole take revenge by forming the James/Younger Gang and robbing banks.  Soon, the members of the James/Younger Gang become folk heroes and the railroad company resorts to bringing in Alan Pinkerton (Timothy Dalton) to track the outlaws down.  However, even as they try to remain out of the clutches of Pinkerton’s men, there is growing dissension in the ranks of the James/Younger Gang.  Cole feels like Jesse doesn’t respect his opinions while Jesse is falling in love with Zee (Ali Larter) and it’s hard to court a girl when you’re constantly having to hide out from Alan Pinkertson.  Meanwhile, the other members of the gang wonder why their wanted posters never look as good as Jesse’s and Cole’s.

There have been many movies made about the James/Younger Gang and this is certainly one of them.  What sets this telling apart from other versions of this familiar tale is that American Outlaws is the feel-good version of the story.  Bob and Charley Ford are nowhere to be seen in American Outlaws and Jesse James doesn’t get shot in the back while straightening a picture.  This approach misses the point of what makes the legend of Jesse James so memorable in the first place.  Jesse James was the greatest outlaw in the west but he was ultimately taken down by a coward who shot him in the back.  Take out that part of the story and the story loses all of its power.  Jesse James just becomes another outlaw.

In real life, the James/Younger Gang were reportedly a rough group of outlaws who didn’t hesitate when it came to killing.  In American Outlaws, they come across more like a boy band with a side hustle robbing banks.  Jesse is the soulful leader, Cole is the rebel, and the other members of the gang are the interchangeable backup vocalists.  There’s been many good and even great films made about the James/Younger Game.  American Outlaws is not one of them.  For a good movie about the life and times of Jesse James and his associates, I would suggest checking out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders or Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Deliverance (dir by John Boorman)


1973’s The Exorcist is often cited as the first horror film to ever be nominated for best picture and technically, I guess that’s correct.  It was definitely the first best picture nominee to ever deal with a battle between humans and a malevolent supernatural force and no one can deny that The Exorcist has influenced a countless number of horror films.

That said, I think you could make the argument that Deliverance, which was nominated for best picture the year before The Exorcist, was in its own way, a horror film.  Certainly, every crazed hick slasher film that has come out since 1972 owes a debt to Deliverance.  Deliverance‘s ending has been imitated by so many other horror films that it’s become a bit of cliche.  Though there might not be any supernatural creatures in Deliverance, the film still features its own set of horrifying monsters.  The toothless redneck rapists (played by character actor Bill McKinney and rodeo performer Herbert “Cowboy” Coward) seem as if they’ve jumped straight out of a nightmare and into the movie.  Of course, they aren’t the only monsters in this film.  There’s also the (fictional) Cahulawassee River, which is due to be dammed up and seems to be determined to take out its anger on anyone foolish enough to try to navigate it.

Much as with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which came out just two years after Deliverance), the main theme here seem to be that you should be careful about going off the main road.  Just as the unfortunate hippies and college students in Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved to be no match for a clan of backwoods cannibal, the four middle-aged men at the center of Deliverance discover that they’re no match for either nature or its inhabitants.  At the start of the film, we watch as three of the men deal with the locals in a condescending and rather smirky manner.  Only one of them actually tries to be nice to the locals, engaging in a banjo duel with a young boy who clearly loves his banjo but who still refuses to smile or shake hands.  The boy knows what the men are getting themselves into them.  The boy knows what awaits them.

If you grew up in the South, as I did, you’ll recognize all four of the men.  It’s not just that they’re played by recognizable actors.  It’s that each one of them is a common archetype of the type of men you find down here.

For instance, there’s Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the self-styled alpha male with his leather vest and his bow-and-arrow and his constant talk about how society is eventually going to collapse and only the strong are going to survive.  You know that Lewis is full of it from the minute you see him but he’s so charismatic that you can also understand why the other three men have fallen under his control.

And then there’s Bobby (Ned Beatty).  Bobby is quick to laugh and quick to talk and quick to make a bad joke.  When he says that he’s a salesman, you’re not surprised.  From the start of the film, Lewis complains that Bobby isn’t strong enough or serious enough and, when the mountain men attack, Bobby is the one they target.  And yet, towards the end of the film, Bobby is the one who sells the hastily concocted story about what happened on the river.

Drew (Ronny Cox) is the nicest of the men.  With his glasses and his guitar and his rather touching belief that everything will be okay if everyone just tells the truth, Drew’s the prototype of the Southern liberal.  One can imagine him teaching in a community college and vainly trying to convince his relatives that segregation and nostalgia for the Confederacy is holding the South back.

And finally, there’s Ed (Jon Voight).  Ed smokes a pipe and it’s obvious that he’s someone who has a very secure life.  Ed is the one who is everyone’s friend.  He’s the one who sticks up for Bobby.  He’s the one who reminds Drew to wear his life jacket.  He’s the only one who can get away with (gently) mocking Lewis.  Ed seems like a nice guy but, at the start of the film, there’s a strange emptiness to Ed.  You get the feeling that the reason Ed is friends with everyone is because he doesn’t have any firm beliefs.  Instead, he just adapts to each situation and says whatever everyone wants to hear.  You can’t help but wonder what Ed believes.  By the end of the movie, of course, both Ed and the viewer have learned what Ed is capable of doing.

Cox, Voight, and especially poor Ned Beatty are all perfectly cast in their roles.  Burt Reynolds reportedly felt that this film was his best performance and he was probably right.  Director John Boorman captures both the beauty and the menace of nature, leaving you both in awe of the the river and fearful of what it can do those foolish enough to try to conquer it.  Interestingly enough, while Boorman was directing Deliverance, he was offered The Exorcist.  He turned it down, feeling that the script was too exploitive of the possessed child.  Boorman would, however, direct The Exorcist II: The Heretic (co-starring Deliverance‘s Ned Beatty).

(At the same time, Jon Voight was offered the role of Father Karras in The Exorcist but, like Boorman, turned the film down so he could work on Deliverance.)

While the film is best known for its sequences on the river, one should not overlook the haunting scenes of the survivors once they make their way back to civilization.  After having spent the previous 80 minutes or so presenting everyone in the backwoods as a threat, the final third of Deliverance actually emphasizes the decency of the townspeople.  When one of the men breaks down and starts to cry in the middle of dinner, everyone is quietly respectful of his emotions.  Towards the end of the film, as the survivors are driven out of town, they find themselves stuck behind the old country church, which is being moved upriver.  “Just got to wait for the church to get out of the way,” their driver says while the church’s bell mournfully rings for both the death of the town and the death of innocence.

(Of course, even with all the kind townspeople around, there’s still a somewhat menacing sheriff.  It’s just not a Southern film without a scary sheriff, is it?  “Don’t you boys ever do nothing like this again,” he says at one point.  The sheriff is played by James Dickey, the author of both the novel and the screenplay on which the film is based.)

Deliverance was nominated for three academy awards.  In the directing and the editing categories, it lost to Cabaret.  For best picture, it lost to The Godfather.  Deliverance, The Godfather, and Cabaret, all competing against each other?  1972 was a very good year.