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Murder, assault, grant theft auto and overall mayhem...but for a good cause
A powerhouse performance by Pam Grier emerges from director Jack Hill's revenge thriller. Grier is a nurse bent on obliterating the drug pushers, pimps and crooked politicians responsible for getting her kid sister hooked on junk. The hokey dialog and noble underpinnings of the plot are easy to take given the exciting action packed into this film by Hill. It's all played out to a pulse pounding funk score by Roy Ayers. Grier gives a gutsy performance and the supporting cast includes William Elliott as a good cop, Booker Bradshaw as very bad politician as well as Robert DoQui as "King George," a very flamboyant and very badly dressed drug pusher/pimp. Alan Arbus is a sleazy businessman with a lot of fetishes. The great Sid Haig is Omar. The cinematography is by Paul Lohmann, who went on to shoot some of the best films of Robert Altman and Mel Brooks!
Day of the Outlaw (1959)
An odd western
André De Toth's odd western stars Robert Ryan as an angry gunslinger feuding with a local farmer and coveting that same farmer's wife. Before Ryan can have it out with the farmer, a band of outlaws hit town and a tense psychodrama ensues. While the acting is uniformly excellent, this film is so devoid of any style it's hard to imagine what De Toth was after. Ryan and Burl Ives (as the lead bad guy) are excellent and the snowy imagery (it's set in the mountains of Wyoming) is different, but the plot is anemic. With zero close-ups of any of the actors, it's tough to get too deeply invested in what happens to any of these characters. Tina Louise and David Nelson are in it too. The rousing music is by Alexander Courage.
North Dallas Forty (1979)
Cynical but hilarious
If it weren't for SLAP SHOT, this would probably be the most cynical sports movie ever made. Ted Kotcheff's version of Peter Gent's book casts Nick Nolte as a not quite over the hill pro football player struggling through the morass of corporate politics, crazy team- mates and myriad injuries. It's a great performance and he's well matched with Mac Davis as team quarterback and best friend. Few stones are left un-turned in this seedy look at the lives of professional athletes. While SLAP SHOT portrayed hockey players as foul-mouthed, tooth-less goons, the football players here as seen as drug-addled sex maniacs who lust after woman AND B12 shots with equal aplomb. Davis has many of the film's best lines, espousing much crackpot southern wisdom fitting just about every insane situation ("gross is when you go to kiss your grandpa good night and he sticks his tongue down your throat"). The outstanding supporting cast includes Charles Durning, Dabney Coleman, Bo Svenson (hilarious as the hot-headed Jo Bob Priddy), John Matuszak, Steve Forrest, G.D. Spradlin and Dayle Haddon as Nolte's level-headed love interest.
A noble film mired in melodrama
Using the famed drug rehab center of SYNANON as a backdrop seems like a sure fire hit, but this film misses more than it scores. Alex Cord is a junkie who seeks help at the center and finds himself at odds with former prison crony Chuck Connors. He also finds himself smitten with sexy fellow addict Stella Stevens. A film of such noble bearing is difficult to criticize but it is a shame that director Richard Quine infuses the story with such cliché-ridden melodrama. The acting is mightily uneven with Stevens and Connors coming off best. Cord is far too dull a screen presence to be truly compelling and, as the founder of the program, Edmond O'Brien recites each and every line as if he's addressing an assembly. He's so didactic it's impossible not to snicker at his verbose delivery. There's some great B&W cinematography by Harry Stradling Jr. and some very odd pseudo-jazz music by Neal Hefti. The supporting cast includes Barbara Luna, Alejandro Rey, Eartha Kitt and Richard Evans as "Hopper," Cord's demented junkie pal.
The African Queen (1951)
The legendary screen coupling of Humphrey Bogart & Katharine Hepburn does not disappoint. Set during WWI, John Huston's action/comedy has the pair as a steam boat operator & a mission heading down a treacherous African river intent on torpedoing a German freighter. The chemistry is undeniable between the two leads and the film's pace is breakneck. Hepburn is stellar as a spinster who actually plots the scheme. Bogart, a coward in hero's clothing, is at times very funny. He deservedly won an Oscar for his unlikeliest role. The clever script is by Huston and the great James Agee. The shot on location photography is by Jack Cardiff and the supporting cast includes three outstanding character actors: Robert Morley, Theodore Bikel and Peter Bull (as a bombastic German captain).
Night Must Fall (1964)
A deliberately paced and very grim thriller
Albert Finney's stunning performance is the reason to see Karel Reisz's tightly wound version of the Emlyn Williams play. Finney plays a diabolic young man who insinuates himself into the household of wealthy widow Mona Washbourne. He's soon her favorite and he soon has her wrapped around his demented finger. Things are further complicated by the fact that Washbourne's nubile daughter Susan Hampshire is smitten with the loony Finney. Deliberately paced but never boring, this film sets a grim tone from the get go and keeps it up throughout. Reisz and Finney produced and there's a creepy music score by Ron Grainer. The great Freddie Francis did the cinematography (his last for sixteen years, during which time he spent directing various horror films). Sheila Hancock plays Finney's pregnant girlfriend.
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
A grotesque performance by Anthony Quinn
Ralph Nelson's hard hitting adaptation of Rod Serling's teleplay features a grotesque performance by Anthony Quinn as a punched drunk boxer struggling to come to terms with the fact that his career is over. He's helped (in vain) by employment placement specialist Julie Harris and stymied by shifty manager Jackie Gleason. The film is all about the acting and it's top notch. Quinn, who at times is a bit inaudible, carries the film and is in virtually every scene. Harris is terrific in an unlikely role and Gleason is very potent as a degenerate gambler facing mounting financial woes. The stunning B&W cinematography is by Arthur J Ornitz and there's a dynamite score by Laurence Rosenthal. Mickey Rooney, Stanley Adams and Madame Spivy (as "Ma") co-star.
The Walker (2007)
There's something going on here...
There's something going on here but what it is isn't exactly clear. Paul Schrader's muddled thriller benefits greatly from a very interesting Woody Harrelson performance along with a highly colorful supporting cast. Harrelson is a Washington DC society dandy who escorts ("walks") married women to various functions. He know all their secrets and where all the bodies are buried. When one doyenne (Kristin Scott Thomas) becomes embroiled in the murder case of a shifty lobbyist, Harrelson steps in and nearly takes the rap. Like the heroes in past Schrader films (LIGHT SLEEPER, American GIGOLO), Harrelson's character is deeply flawed and more than a little disinterested in his own fate. Harrelson plays his role as if channeling both Truman Capote AND Hercule Poirot! Schrader's script has a greatly paced first half but then all is rushed for a tidy completion. Still, the film is immensely watchable and full of many great lines of dialog ("never get between a friend and a firing squad"). Lauren Bacall is great as a grand old dame and Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty and Marybeth Hurt are in it too.
The Offence (1972)
Sean Connery is very bad good guy
Sean Connery is a British police lieutenant with a major chip on his shoulder. After 20 years of working one sordid crime after another, he's beyond burnt out, he's a serious cup of coffee waiting to spill...and he does...during the interrogation of suspected child rapist Ian Bannen. Sidney Lumet directed this stagy production that gives Connery one of his best and least likely roles; he's a bad good guy. It's a great performance in a highly unheralded film. Connery's anger is palpable and the first-rate supporting cast includes Trevor Howard and Vivien Merchent (as Connery's exhausted wife). The fact that the movie is not particularly cinematic does not dull its power. The script is by John Hopkins, adapting his play "The Story of Yours."
Wild Is the Wind (1957)
Operatic drama with Anthony Quinn as a Nevada land baron who travels to Italy & marries the sister of his dead wife. The new wife is Anna Magnani and she proves to be an opinionated pistol. Refusing to acquiesce to self appointed king Quinn, Magnani embarks on a passionate affair with ranch hand Anthony Franciosa. The fact that Franciosa is Quinn's adopted son heightens the melodrama. Magnani, in her second American film (after her Oscar-winning performance in THE ROSE TATTOO), gives a great performance. She exudes sexuality and has a lot of chemistry with both of her leading men. Directed by George Cukor (who replaced John Sturges after Sturges realized the film was shaping into a romance). The now classic music score, including the much recorded title song, is by Dimitri Tiomkin. Charles Lang did the cinematography. The supporting cast includes Joseph Calleia, Lili Valenty (excellent as Quinn's loyal sister-in-law), and Dolores Hart.