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Mr. Mom (1983)
Entertaining Yet Simplistic and Sexist
This tale of the early 1980s recession has Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) losing his engineering position with a Detroit automaker, which requires his wife Caroline (Teri Garr) to go to work in the advertising business. Caroline naturally is quite successful while her predictably inept husband has all kinds of trouble managing a household full of young children. Caroline's boss Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) has eyes for her, while Jack's lecherous neighbor Joan (Ann Jillian) has eyes for him. The story is wrapped up in a predictable manner, and everyone seems okay at the end.
The plot--as usual in these kinds of films--requires that the male character (Keaton) be a complete and utterly inept loser while the female character (Garr) is very professional and can do no wrong. It's a common theme in movies nowadays, and was beginning to become common in 1983. A visitor from outer space who watches this movie would conclude that men are so stupid that they couldn't possibly exist without the wise guidance of women. It's really pretty offensive at times.
Jillian and Mull are great as the second leads (maybe better than Keaton and Garr) and the story moves along quite quickly. If you can get past the "stupid man" part of the plot you'll likely enjoy "Mr. Mom", but remember that it doesn't reflect reality at all.
Way... Way Out (1966)
Out of Many Contenders, Probably the Worst Jerry Lewis Film
"Way...Way Out" is, in my opinion, Jerry Lewis' worst movie. That's quite a claim, when you consider he also made "The Big Mouth" the following year. It's one of those 1960s "sex comedies" which is so timid and restrained that it doesn't even really deserve that description.
After an interminable time of discussing an upcoming space flight, Jerry and Connie Stevens are U.S. astronauts that fly to the moon, where they are joined by two Russian Cosmonauts, played by Dick Shawn and Anita Ekberg. I tried hard to find something humorous after the astronauts arrive on the moon, but alas, there was nothing. The movie rambles on to an inconclusive ending without a chuckle in sight.
Lost among the bad acting and poor script are some pretty good actors, including Brian Keith, Dennis Weaver, Robert Morley, and James Brolin. Keith's turn as an arrogant and autocratic army general is so bad that it's genuinely embarrassing. The entire cast seems to have saved their careers' worst performances just for this movie.
I had read really scathing reviews of "Way...Way Out" but I had to see it for myself. Yes, the reviews are correct, it's that bad, maybe worse. This horrifically bad movie makes "Hook, Line, and Sinker" look like brilliant dramatic art. Just as an experiment, you should watch "The Big Mouth" and "Way...Way Out" back to back on a rainy day. I take no responsibility for your actions, but be warned that you may end up calling a hotline for severely depressed people.
American Dreams (2002)
Wonderful, Under-appreciated 1960s Chronicle
Back in the 1970s Aaron Spelling brought us such execrable TV shows as "Charlie's Angels", "Starsky and Hutch", "Fantasy Island", "The Love Boat", and others. Spelling didn't attempt to promote the shows as great dramatic art, preferring to produce (as he called it) "candy for the mind". These were shows that had cardboard characters, childish plots, stupid dialogue, and no real value. Spelling was very perceptive, since he realized that when people came home from work, they wanted something simple and unchallenging, with no real plot or substance.
"American Dreams" ran from 2002 to 2005 and had intelligent plots, great acting, good cinematography, and complex characters. I guess that's what its problem waspeople had to actually think while they were watching, instead of drooling over Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith or watching David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser screeching around town in a hot red car while acting out insultingly sophomoric scripts every week.
"American Dreams" told the story of a middle-class Catholic family in Philadelphia during the mid-1960s. The show was basically a soap opera, with many intertwining plot elements every week. The show's story began in 1963 and featured such subjects as the Kennedy assassination, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Beatles, sexual orientation, the U.S. space program, and many others. The intelligent scripts were enacted by a dynamite cast of virtual unknowns, all portrayed against the backdrop of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand". Viewers didn't have to tolerate great quantities of snickering, suggestive dialogue, car chases, or constant gunplay.
The show lasted three seasons and unfortunately never achieved top ratings. The cast members were uniformly excellent and included Brittany Snow, Tom Verica, Will Estes, Gail O'Grady, Vanessa Lengies, Jonathan Adams, and many others. The younger members of the cast were surprisingly professional and believable, but everyone performed at a very high level.
It's a shame that "American Dreams" was canceled after only three seasons. I suppose people would rather watch John Ritter fall down and Suzanne Somers jiggle in "Three's Company", because that idiotic show lasted a lot longer. That's unfortunate, but it does indicate why American prime time television is so bad and why our expectations are so low.
The Possessed (1977)
Adequate Though Pedestrian 1970s TV-Movie
Possession-type movies were quite popular in the 1970s thanks to "The Exorcist". In this TV-movie, clothing, papers, and people are bursting into flames at a girls' boarding school, so it's ex-priest Kevin Leahy (James Farentino) to the rescue. He tangles with the school's administrators, including the evil Louise Gelson (Joan Hackett). Although not unexpected, the nail-spitting/vomit/immolation sequence is quite a bravura finale. The movie's conclusion is a little muddled, apparently purposely so. Fine actresses Ann Dusenberry and Claudette Nevins also star.
First broadcast in May 1977, this film also starred fourth-billed Harrison Ford, in his final role before becoming a worldwide superstar thanks to his appearance in "Star Wars" a few weeks later. He plays a handsome biology teacher who unfortunately finds himself locked in a room and on fire. Ford's brief appearance is a little disappointing, but how could the filmmakers have known he'd be incredibly famous in just a couple of weeks? This TV-movie is an interesting time-filler, but you've seen it all before. Try to catch it for a brief glimpse of young and pre-stardom Harrison Ford.
Star 80 (1983)
Intense and Disturbing
This story follows the tragic story of Dorothy Stratten from her Vancouver home, to Playboy centerfold, to the beginnings of movie stardom, then to her violent death at the hands of her estranged husband, Paul Snider. There's no way to make this subject matter happy, so be prepared.
Because most viewers know how the story will end, watching this film is very chilling. In addition, Eric Roberts' disturbing (but authentic) performance as Paul Snider will stay with you for a long, long time. Mariel Hemingway stars as the young and innocent Stratten, while Cliff Robertson has the role of Hugh Hefner.
The final scene, filmed in the house where the murder actually took place, is very difficult to watch. The movie is very well directed and acted. Eric Roberts' performance should have resulted in an Oscar nomination, but no one who plays a character this creepy would ever be nominated. This very good movie will haunt you for days after you watch it.
Medic: White Is the Color (1954)
Good Episode About a Leukemia Case Study
While it's treatable today, back in the 1950s leukemia was a true death sentence. The word must have been a really scary one to someone recently diagnosed, because medical science could do very little back then.
Young and expecting couple Estelle and Larry Collins (Beverly Garland and Lee Marvin) learn from Dr. Konrad Styner (Richard Boone) that Estelle has leukemia and has a limited time to live. Determined to save the baby, Estelle and Larry consent to life-prolonging treatment. The baby's born in a rather tense sequence and Estelle dies, after which Styner and his assistant proceed to puff on cigarettes (!).
The idea of Garland and Marvin as a young couple seems a little odd but it certainly worked well in this fine episode. However, during the show I kept thinking of Garland in 1950s monster movies and Marvin in violent war films! Boone is fine as always, even though he has a face made for radio. Anyway, this is a good first episode in this fine medical series.
Strange Bargain (1949)
Neat Little Film Noir
"Strange Bargain" doesn't have any big stars, but its cast is very capable, the direction is good, and the script is excellent. It's a story of a suicide gone wrong, which is a little unusual.
Sam Wilson (Jeffrey Lynn) is approached by his boss Mr. Jarvis (Richard Gaines), who tells Sam that he's going to kill himself. In order for his family to collect insurance, he has to make his death look like murder. Jarvis gives Wilson $10,000 to fake the murder, but things don't go the way anyone plans. There's a neat little twist at the end and Sam reunites with his faithful wife Georgia (Martha Scott).
Lynn, Scott, and Gaines are great, as is Harry Morgan as a wise police detective. The little-known Katherine Emery is very good as Jarvis' conniving, grasping wife. As many reviewers have noted, Scott, Lynn, and Morgan reunited in 1987 for a TV episode to recreate their parts. It's a good treat for those who love late 1940s films, and it'll keep your attention at all times.
The Unearthly (1957)
Dreary and Undistinguished Horror Film
John Carradine was known for making schlock movies in the 1970s and 1980s, but this movie proves that he was acting in pretty bad films all the way back in 1957.
The film opens with a shot of an old, dark house, with ominous music and very stormy weather. Dr. Charles Conway (Carradine), his assistants Lobo (the incomparable Tor Johnson) and Sharon (beauty queen Marilyn Buferd), and his co-conspirator Dr. Loren Wright (a dignified Roy Gordon) are running a very shady business that experiments on unsuspecting medical patients. The experiments don't work very well, and Carradine has wound up with a group of deformed monsters in a cell in his basement. Another innocent victim, Grace Thomas (the lovely Allison Hayes) and escaped convict Frank Scott (Myron Healy) join the group. Scott is of course an undercover police officer who saves Thomas, calls the cops, and saves the day. Naturally Scott and Thomas fall in love, since you can't have a 1950s film without a romantic subplot.
Some of these little 1950s horror/sci-fi epics (such as "I Bury the Living" and "The Man Who Turned to Stone") were actually not too bad. However, "The Unearthly" is just horrible. The movie is very slow-moving , dark, and is too boring to be very funny. The script, direction, cinematography, and lighting are very poor. Healy makes a substandard hero (since he was almost always a villain) but Carradine, Gordon, and Hayes are pretty good under the circumstances. Tor Johnson demonstrates once again that he's probably the most unforgettable dumb and mute assistant in any movie. Unless you're really desperate for an old horror film, you should skip this one. It's just awful.
One Against the World (1939)
Interesting Little Short Subject
This short film tells the story of Ephraim McDowell (Jonathan Hale), the Kentucky physician who performed the first surgery on a woman in 1809. Based on fact, the film primarily focuses on the paranoia of the local townsfolk, who are so suspicious of McDowell that they're ready to lynch him. When his patient lives, McDowell is vindicated and accepted by the local residents.
The real Ephraim McDowell did perform surgery to remove a large ovarian tumor, and without anesthetic or sterile tools! His patient recovered and lived several more decades. The movie veers toward being pretty overripe, and there's narration instead of dialogue, but it's short, to the point, and watchable.
Madison Avenue (1961)
Early 1960s "Adult" Enterainment
A lot of films from the late 1950s and early 1960s billed themselves as "adult" style films because they dealt (superficially) with subjects such as sexual orientation, illicit love affairs, ruthless business people, racism, drug addiction, alcoholism, and so on. I guess "Madison Avenue" could be considered one of those films. It's decent but certainly wouldn't be considered remotely "adult" these days.
Advertising hotshot Clint Lorimer (Dana Andrews) decides he's going to drum up business by taking over the moribund advertising agency run by Anne Tremaine (Eleanor Parker). Together they promote a dimwitted and childish milk magnate Harvey Ames (Eddie Albert) and have him in line for the White House. Lorimer and Tremaine have second thoughts, torpedo Ames' candidacy, then have to deal with the inevitable repercussions.
Dana Andrews and the beautiful Jeanne Crain star as characters who have an on-again, off-again love affair throughout the movie. Andrews is his usual self, but it's hard to take one's eyes off Crain, she's so stunning at age 36.
A few things identify this film as one from the early 1960s. First, everyone is smoking and drinking like crazy. The National Institute of Health would likely be aghast if this movie were released today. I mean, people never quit smoking and drinking heavily from sunup to bedtime. Second, the movie has the usual early 1960s condescending attitudes toward women, especially business people. It's nice to see Parker cast as a businesswoman, but when Andrews tells Parker, "The average businessman looking for the deal, not the dame", I always cringe.
Everyone does a good job, but as usual Eddie Albert stands out. His portrayal of a naïve, slow-witted rich guy who inherited his money is spot on. Andrews, Parker, and especially Crain do quite well, also. Kathleen Freeman is fun as a frumpy secretary in a dying business. You won't be overwhelmed with emotion, but on its own terms, "Madison Avenue" is fairly good.