18 Days of Paranoia #14: The Organization (dir by Don Medford)


Sidney Poitier played Detective Virgil Tibbs for the third and final time in the 1970 film, The Organization.

This time, Virgil is investigating a murder at an office building in San Francisco.  It’s a very odd murder, in that an executive was shot, a security guard was bludgeoned, and even though it looks like there was a robbery taking place, nothing appears to have actually been stolen.  Since neither the company nor the executive were believed to be involved in anything shady, Virgil finds himself perplexed as to why any of this has happened at all.

Fortunately, the local urban revolutionaries are here to help!  They contact Virgil and Virgil reluctantly agrees to meet with the group, which is made up of the usual collection of angry 1970s activists — i.e., a dissident preacher, a reformed drug dealer, a guy who won’t stop yelling, and a woman who is obviously going to be killed before the movie is over.  The revolutionaries explain that they were the ones who broke into the office but they also say that they didn’t kill anyone.  Instead, they broke into the office because they wanted the police to investigate the break-in and discover that the company was a front for a bunch of drug dealers.  “The Organization” is flooding poor and minority neighborhoods with heroin and the revolutionaries want to stop them.  In fact, the revolutionaries have stolen four million dollars worth of heroin.  Now, they want Virgil to help them.

Even though Virgil is sympathetic to the revolutionaries, he’s still a cop and he can’t get directly involved with illegal activities.  Instead, he agrees to not arrest the revolutionaries and to continue his investigation, in the hope of bringing down the Organization.  It’s not going to be easy, of course.  There’s evidence that the Organization may even have agents inside the San Francisco police department.

As far as the Virgil Tibbs movies are concerned, The Organization is slightly better than They Call Me Mister Tibbs! but it’s nowhere near as good as the one that started it all, In The Heat of the Night.  Probably the biggest flaw with The Organization is that Virgil has to share the spotlight with the revolutionaries.  With the exception of Raul Julia (who plays a former drug dealer named Juan), none of the revolutionaries are particularly memorable characters and their plan for taking down The Organization is so unnecessarily convoluted that it’s hard to believe that Virgil would go along with it.

On the plus side, The Organization works fairly well as a conspiracy thriller.  It does manage to create a consistent atmosphere of unease and mistrust.  This is one of those films where people are constantly getting shot by unseen gunmen mere minutes after getting arrested and the fact that even cool and in-control Virgil Tibbs can’t save them does a lot towards creating a nice sense of paranoia.  The films end on perhaps the most downbeat note of all of the Virgil Tibbs movies, suggesting that, in the end, everything we’ve just watched was for nothing.


Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs

 

A Real American Hero (1978, directed by Lou Antonio)


Based on the title, you might think this made-for-TV movie is about G.I. Joe but instead it’s about Buford Pusser, the club-wielding sheriff who battled bootleggers in Tennessee and who might have been murdered by them.  While he was still alive, Pusser was played by Joe Don Baker in the original Walking Tall.  After Pusser’s mysterious death, Bo Svenson took over the role for two sequels and a Walking Tall television series in 1981.  Meanwhile, in A Real American Hero, the role is played by Brian Dennehy.

Though Pusser may be played by a different actor than in the original movies, A Real American Hero finds him still dealing with same threats.  As a result of getting some bad moonshine at the Dixie Disco, two teenagers are dead and two are blind.  Buford is determined to take down the owner of the Disco, Danny Boy Mitchell (Ken Howard).  Unfortunately for Buford, Danny Boy has a mole in the sheriff’s department and always manages to clean up his club before Buford arrives.  When Buford does arrest Danny, the case is thrown out of court because Buford didn’t have probable cause or any real evidence beyond hearsay.

Buford’s solution is to start enforcing every single law on the books, even the ones that haven’t been relevant for over a century.  Buford knows that stopping Danny Boy for a misdemeanor would give him probable cause to search him for any evidence of smuggling moonshine.  For instance, Buford pulls Danny Boy over because he’s driving a vehicle but, in violation of a law written in 1908, he doesn’t have a man walking in front of the car and waving a red flag.  Another time, he gives Danny Boy a ticket because, in violation of a law from 1888, he never ties his carriage to a hitching post and a law written in 1910 legally defines all cars as being carriages.

The problem is that, if Buford only enforces the law against Danny Boy, he could be accused of police harassment.  So, everyone in the country has to be held to the same standard, which means that everyone in town is soon getting ticketed and jailed for the minor offenses as Danny Boy and his associates.  Everyone gets angry with Buford but, after Danny Boy tries to assassinate the sheriff while he’s got his kids in the car, they change their minds and support being overpoliced.

A Real American Hero was obviously an early attempt at a pilot for a Buford Pusser TV series.  Bulky Brian Dennehy is physically right for Buford but he’s never as convincing a redneck as Joe Don Baker was in the role.  Plus, it’s impossible to watch Dennehy hauling people into court for not hitching their “horseless carriages” without being reminded of Dennehy harassing Sylvester Stallone at the start of First Blood.  Despite a subplot where Pusser tries to help a former prostitute re-enter society, Buford comes across more like a jerk than a real American hero.  Meanwhile, Ken Howard does his best but Danny Boy is still just a generic television bad guy.  If he wasn’t selling moonshine in Buford’s county, he’d probably be further down south, trying to frame the Duke boys for a bank robbery.

This one is for Walking Tall completists only.

Horror On The Lens: The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer (dir by Lela Swift)


Today’s horror on the lens is 1974’s The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer.

This short but entertaining sci-fi film may be a bit obscure but it’s a personal favorite of mine.  Check out my review here and then be sure to enjoy the show!

Griffith Gets Serious: Winter Kill (1974, directed by Jud Taylor)


Eagle Lake, a mountain resort town in California, has a problem.  It’s almost tourist season and there is a sniper stalking through the night, using his rifle to pick off citizens and painting messages like “The First” and “The Second” in the snow.  It’s up to police chief Sam McNeill (Andy Griffith) to figure out the killer’s motives and capture him before the vacation season begins!  To catch the killer, McNeill is going to have to investigate his friends and neighbors, all of whom have secrets that they don’t want to have revealed.

1974 was a busy year for Andy Griffith.  Best-known for playing the folksy and reassuring Sheriff Taylor for over ten years on The Andy Griffith Show, Griffith tried to change his image by appearing in three unexpectedly dark made-to-TV movies.  In Pray For The Wildcats and Savages, Griffith played the villain.  In Winter Kill, he’s back in a more familiar role.  He is once again playing a lawman, though this one carries a gun and doesn’t have time to sit on his porch and play the guitar while Aunt Bea makes dinner.  Instead, he’s getting pressure from all sides to capture a psycho sniper who, at the start of the movie, shoots an old woman after throwing pebbles at her bedroom window.  Eventually, the sniper even ends up kidnapping Chief McNeill’s girlfriend!  This never happened in Mayberry!

Winter Kill is a pretty good mystery.  It’s not strictly a horror film but the sight of the masked sniper, making his way through the night and coldy gunning down unsuspecting victims is scary enough that it might as well be.  Andy Griffith was surprisingly tough and gritty as Chief McNeill.  He might be a good guy in this movie but you still know better than to mess with him.  The rest of the cast is made up of television regulars but keep an eye out for a youngish Nick Notle playing a cocky ski instructor.

Winter Kill was actually meant to be a backdoor pilot for a show where Chief McNeill would battle crime on a weekly basis.  Though that didn’t happen, the concept was later retooled and became a short-lived series called Adams of Eagle Lake.

Embracing the Melodrama Part III #1: No Down Payment (dir by Martin Ritt)


Back in 2014 and 2015, I did a series of reviews that I called Embracing the Melodrama, in which I reviewed some of the best (and worst) melodramas ever made.  All together, I reviewed 186 films as a part of Embracing the Melodrama, everything from Sunrise to Reefer Madness to The Towering Inferno to Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction.  I had so much fun doing it that I’ve decided to do it again.

No, don’t worry.  I’m not going to attempt to review 186 films this time.  Instead, for Embracing The Melodrama Part III, I am going to limit myself to reviewing 8 films.  I’ll be posting one Embracing the Melodrama review a day, from now until next Sunday.

Let’s kick things off with 1957’s No Down Payment, a film about life in … THE SUBURBS!

(cue dramatic music)

The suburbs!

Is there any place in America that’s more dramatic?  Is it any wonder that, since the early 50s, films have regularly been using the suburbs as an example of everything that’s apparently wrong with America?  Every year sees at least one major film about how terrible life is in the suburbs.  Last year, for instance, George Clooney directed a film called Suburbicon, which was regularly cited as a possible Oscar contender before it was released and everyone was reminded of the fact that George Clooney is a terrible director.  That said, I can understand why filmmakers continue to be drawn to the suburbs.  Secret affairs.  Dangerous drugs.  Duplicitous children.  Fractured families.  Barbecuing alcoholics.  Undercover occultists.  You can find them all in the suburbs!

No Down Payment opens with David (Jeffrey Hunter) and Jean Martin (Patricia Owens) driving down a California highway and looking at the billboards that dot the landscape.  Every billboard advertises a new community, inviting people to make a new and better life away from the crowded city.  David and Jean smile, amused by how blatant all of the ads are.  That’s when they see the billboard that’s advertising their new home:

Sunrise Hill Estates

A Better Place For Better Living

Soon, David and Jean are moving into their new home and meeting their new neighbors.  It turns out that most of the houses in Sunrise Hill Estates are available for “no down payment” and the majority of the residents are struggling financially.  Though David may look at all of his neighbors and say, “Looks like everybody here is living a wonderful life,” the truth is something far different.

(If David’s line sound a bit too on the nose and obvious, that’s because almost all of the dialogue in No Down Payment was too on the nose and obvious.  As a side note, “on the nose” is an extremely strange expression.)

David’s neighbors include:

Herm Kreitzer (Pat Hingle) and his wife, Betty (Barbara Rush).  Herm owns an appliance store and sits on the town council.  Herm is gruff but likable.  He’s the leader of his neighborhood and he welcomes the Martins with a backyard party.  Herm’s employee, Iko (Aki Aleong), wants to move to Sunrise Hill but no one is willing to give him a reference because he’s not white.

Troy Boone (Cameron Mitchell) and his wife, Leola (Joanne Woodward).  We know that Troy is going to be trouble because he’s played by Cameron Mitchell.  We know that we’re going to like Leola because she’s played by Joanne Woodward.  Troy’s an auto mechanic and a veteran.  He wants to be appointed the chief of police but the town is reluctant to hire him because he doesn’t have a college education.  Leola wants to have a child but Troy says that they can’t even think about that until he has a good job.

And then there’s Jerry Flagg (Tony Randall) and his wife, Isabelle (Sheree North).  Jerry is a used car salesman and he’s also a drunk.  Jerry spends most of the movie hitting on other women and embarrassing Isabelle.  Jerry has no impulse control and, as a result, he’s heavily in debt.  His only hope is that he can convince a family to buy an expensive car that they really don’t need.  When last I checked, that’s what a used car salesman is supposed to do.

The film deals with a lot of issues — prejudice, sexism, economic insecurity — that are still relevant today.  Unfortunately, the film itself is a bit slow and what was shocking in the 50s seems rather jejune today.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that, as with many films of the 50s, all of the interesting stuff is happening off-screen.  That said, the film has an interesting cast.  Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens are a bit dull as the Martins but then you’ve got their neighbors!  Any film that features Cameron Mitchell glowering can’t be all bad but the best performance comes from Tony Randall, who is memorably sleazy and desperate as Jerry Flagg.  For a fun experiment, watch this film right before watching Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Tomorrow, we’ll continue to embrace the melodrama with 1961’s Common Law Wife!

A Movie A Day #238: Lawman (1971, directed by Michael Winner)


In the 1880s, Jared Maddox (Burt Lancaster) is the marshal of the town of Bannock.  After a night of drinking and carousing leads to the accidental shooting of an old man, warrants are issued for the arrest of six ranch hands.  Maddox is determined to execute the arrest warrants but the problem is that the six men live in Sabbath, another town.  They all work for a wealthy rancher (Lee J. Cobb) and the marshal of Sabbath, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan), does not see the point in causing trouble when all of the men are likely to be acquitted anyway.  Maddox doesn’t care.  The law is the law and he does not intend to leave Sabbath until he has the six men.

Lawman starts out like a standard western, with a stranger riding into town, but then it quickly turns the western traditions on their head by portraying Marshal Maddox as being a rigid fanatic and the wealthy rancher as a morally conflicted man who does not want to resort to violence and who continually tries and fails to convince Maddox to leave.  In the tradition of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, there are no real heroes to be found in Lawman and, even when Maddox starts to reconsider his strict adherence to the law and refusal to compromise, it is too late to prevent the movie from ending in a bloody massacre.  Since Lawman was made in 1971, I initially assumed it was meant to be an allegory about the Vietnam War but then I saw that it was directed by Michael Winner, a director who specialized in tricking audiences into believing that his violent movie were deeper than they actually were.

Even if Lawman never reaches the heights of a revisionist western classic like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, it is still pretty good, with old pros Lancaster, Ryan, Cobb, and Albert Salmi all giving excellent performances.  The cast is full of familiar faces, with everyone from Robert Duvall to Richard Jordan to Ralph Waite to Joseph Wiseman to John Beck showing up in small roles.  In America, Winner is best remembered for his frequent collaborations with Charles Bronson.  Chuck is not in Lawman, though it seems like he should have been and Lee J. Cobb’s rancher is named Vincent Bronson.  Winner would not make his first film with Charles Bronson until a year later, when he directed him in Chato’s Land.

A Movie A Day #175: Telefon (1977, directed by Don Siegel)


Across America, strange things are happening.  Seemingly ordinary, middle-aged citizens are, without explanation, attacking formerly top secret government facilities.  The attackers are from all different walks of life.  One was an auto mechanic.  Another was a priest.  There was even a housewife who, after blowing up a power station, committed suicide with a poison pill that the KGB stopped issuing a decade ago.  Before launching their attacks, each one of them received a phone call in which a Russian man recited a poem by Robert Frost.

The Americans may not understand what is happening but the Soviets do.  Immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the KGB planted sleeper agents across the United States.  They hypnotized and brainwashed the agents so thoroughly that they no longer remember that they are agents.  The Frost poem was the trigger designed to activate the agents, all of whom were meant to attack what were then valuable parts of America’s infrastructure.  With the arrival of détente, the program was abandoned and the sleeper agents were simply left behind in the United States.  But now, a former hardliner (Donald Pleasence), is activating the agents one by one.  Because he has a photographic memory, KGB colonel Charles Bronson is sent to the United States to track down and kill Pleasence before the United States discovers the truth about what is happening.  Lee Remick, as an American KGB agent, is assigned to work with him but is also ordered to kill him once the assignment has been completed.

That Telfon is one of Charles Bronson’s better post-Death Wish films is largely due to the presence of Don Siegel in the director’s chair.  As a director who specialized in intelligent genre films and who helped to make Clint Eastwood one of the world’s biggest stars with Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, and Escape from Alcatraz, Don Siegel was the ideal director to bring out the best in Bronson.  Like St. Ives, Telefon features Bronson in an uncharacteristically cerebral role.  For once, he spends more time analyzing clues than he does shooting people and Bronson is surprisingly credible as a man with a photographic memory.

As directed by Siegel, Telefon is almost a satire of the type of violent action films that Bronson usually made for directors like Michael Winner. In Telefon, both the bad guys and the good guys are equally clueless.  All of the KGB sleeper agents are dumpy and middle-aged and the film continually emphasizes that they’ve all been brainwashed to attack targets that are no longer strategically important.    Donald Pleasence, playing one of his raving villains, wears a blonde, Beatles-style wig for much of the film.

Though the ending is a let down, Telefon is still one of the best of Bronson’s late 70s films.