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Death Wish (1974)
A movie for the people
Death Wish is a movie for all of the people who have to wade through the legends of scum that inhabit the streets of America's urban wasteland. Liberals hate this film because it appeals to a very real desire in many Americans to see the streets "cleaned up." It is often portrayed as horribly violent and as nothing more than an "exploitation" movie--I'm not so sure that it is either. Yes, the film "exploits" the very real feelings people have toward violent wanton crime, but this story could have been a lot more exploitive than it is. Rather than roaming the streets armed to the teeth, as we might see in a more modern film, Paul Kersey takes on the criminals of New York with a .32 revolver. This is not a "gun nut" blowing people away with a .44 magnum or a .308, rather it is a guy who knows so little about firearms that he uses a pathetically underpowered gun to defend himself. That's the point of the movie. Paul Kersey is not a Special Forces Vietnam vet returning home to clean up America with overwhelming firepower--he is an architect and a liberal--in other words, just a regular guy. That's what is so forceful about the movie. Most people hold liberal views about criminals and violent crime because they have never had it hit close enough to home to shake them out of their liberal, hypothetical, text-book way of thinking. This movie seeks to do just that. As difficult as the rape scene is to watch, it is absolutely crucial to the plot because it tries to put the audience in the place of an innocent victim of violent crime. Talk to people who have lost children or parents to violent offenders and see if they support liberal coddling of violent criminals--you'll find few that do. Death Wish makes a simple point: if the law can't or won't protect innocent people, then maybe someone else should. Is vigilantism scary? Yes, of course it is, but then so is the liberal tradition of accepting violent crime as a "normal" aspect of society. Death Wish is a good movie; it's many sequels are not. Don't confuse the original with the real exploitation movies that follow it.
Pretty good for a TV movie
While definitely not in the same class with The Night Stalker as far as made-for-TV movies go, Gargoyles is still worth a peek. I agree with Gallard-2, that the director definitely over-exposes the gargoyles and in doing so lessens the effect of these creatures. The makeup and gargoyle designs were, I think, first rate, but you see them so often that it is easy to start looking too closely and pick them apart as costumes. The first half of the movie is the best, because the director maintains some suspense before we start seeing too much of the gargoyles. The premise of the film--gargoyles taking over the earth--is a little bit silly. I think the film would have worked better if less was explained and more mystery had surrounded the creatures--it certainly would have been scarier. Cornel Wilde is good as the human foe, but I can't help but think that if the creatures had been kept a little more in the shadows that this movie might have been a true TV classic. But even with its faults, it is worth a look, and it actually may be a little too much for young children.
The Searchers (1956)
Wayne at his best
It's difficult to comment on this movie because there are so many threads running through it. John Ford certainly deserves credit for creating this western classic, but it is John Wayne's acting and presence which makes this a masterpiece of western cinema. For all those yokels who think that John Wayne could not act, this film stands as solid evidence to the contrary. There is one scene where Ethan is in the presence of two white girls who had been captured by the Commanches he so bitterly hates. In this shot, he reels around and shoots a contempt filled glare at these two girls that is numbing in its effect. Wow! Rarely can an actor say so much with just a look. No doubt, this movie will be criticized for portraying the Indians as the bad guys, and, certainly, the film does show its 1950s stamp, but as a study of character, this is far from a black and white affair. Ethan is a complicated man who demonstrates the best and worst of American traits. All in all, this film deserves its place as one of America's best. I'm not sure that I would agree that it is the best film of all time, but it is without doubt one of the best westerns ever filmed.
Night Gallery: Pilot (1969)
Great made for TV movie!
As a collection of three stories, The Night Gallery stands as one of the best horror anthologies ever filmed. The first of the three stories is the best. Roddy McDowell and Ozzie Davis are fantastic in this eerie little piece about greed, deception, and revenge. The second story is also the second best. Joan Crawford is excellent as the heartless, sightless woman who will sacrifice anyone to be able to see the world around her. The last story is the least of the three. Although Sam Jaffe is very good as the survivor of a Nazi prison camp, Richard Kiley just doesn't do enough with his role as the former Nazi haunted by his monstrous past. All in all, this is one of the premier made-for-TV movies produced in the late sixties/early seventies era. With a few notable exceptions, the TV series which followed never really lived up to this auspicious beginning. If you've never seen this movie, it's definitely worth a look--if for no other reason than to see and hear Rod Serling introduce each episode.
The Challenge (1970)
Great little movie
"The Challenge" is a great little movie, if you can find it. I haven't seen it in quite a few years, and then it was only on television.
The premise of the movie is nothing new. The USA and a smaller asian country are both vying for something that landed in the ocean (I can't remember if it was a missile, or space capsule, or satellite, or what), and rather than wage war over the object, they decide to let two men, one from each nation, fight a 2-man war (a surrogate war) on a deserted island to determine who has the right to it.
If the premise seems silly, don't worry, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable and the premise soons fades into the background as the two combatants begin their cat and mouse game of survival. Both lead actors, Darren McGavin and Mako, are terrific. As Gallery, an ex US soldier/special operations spook, McGavin is a "screw the rules" mercenary type who the government needs for this mission, but doesn't really trust. Mako is every bit his equal though as the communist (at least, I think that he was a communist) soldier with a whole bag of tricks for his US counterpart.
I suppose someone might draw some sort of political conclusions from this movie, but if you are watching it for anything more than the great duel between the main characters, you are missing the point. As made-for-TV movies go, this is a gem.
The Night Stalker (1972)
One of the best made-for-TV movies ever
The 1970s produced a large volume of made-for-TV movies, and, unlike today, they did not have to be about relevant social topics or preach political correctness. Back then, TV movies could actually be made with no intent other than to entertain--what a decade!
The Night Stalker is one of the very best of these made-for-TV films. Be warned, the production values are not as good as a feature film, but the story, the writing, the acting, and the director's mastery of creepiness make up for any other faults. From McGavin on down the line, the acting is terrific! In fact, Carl Kolchak may be McGavin's finest role. Richard Matheson's writing is up to his usual standards of excellence. Barry Atwater is a great bit of casting as the vampire. If there is one fault, and it has to be laid at the feet of the director, it is the inept use of a stunt man as a substitute for Atwater during the action scenes. In some scenes it is painfully obvious that it is not Atwater; it's a wonder the scenes weren't clipped. But this is the price that is paid for a TV movie with a short shooting schedule. As a whole, The Night Stalker is one of the very best vampire movies ever made. Don't let a few faults deter you from an otherwise classic bit of horror film-making. Remember, this is a TV movie; if you want lots of gore, don't waste your time.
Fright Night (1985)
Fright Night is a great mix of horror and humor
Fright Night is a great mix of horror and humor. By 1985, I thought I would never again see a horror movie that was not completely predicated on violence and gore. But Tom Holland came through like gangbusters with Fright Night. This movie is a throwback--a creepy horror flick with minimal gore, great performances, and effective chills. William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowell are fantastic as Charley, the boy living next door to a vampire, and Peter Vincent, the third-rate actor pretending to be a vampire killer. The supporting cast is excellent as well, especially Sarandon as the long-toothed neighbor. There are just too many good scenes to pick a favorite, and the ending is a good as I have ever scene in a vampire movie. If you like a little scare, but don't like being grossed out by gratuitous gore, this is a sure bet. They don't make them like this anymore, but, then again, I said that back in 1985 too.
Torpedo Run (1958)
An excellent submarine movie
Glenn Ford is excellent as Barney Doyle, the war weary sub commander who has to make command decisions which will haunt him the rest of his life. The supporting cast is very good, especially Borgine as Arch, Doyle's second in command and best friend. The director, Joseph Pevney, does a good job of creating an atmosphere of tension as the Americans hunt down the prize of the Japanese fleet--the ship which ultimately costs Doyle his family. My favorite scene is when the American sub sneaks into Tokyo Bay in search of the Japanese carrier. Admittedly, Torpedo Run is not as gritty and intense as Das Boot, nor is it as action-packed as The Hunt For Red October, but in its own way it is on par with both of these fine films. If you like 1950s WWII movies or if you're a Glenn Ford fan, you can't miss with Torpedo Run. It's one of those movies I have to watch at least a couple of times each year.
Arguably the greatest western ever filmed
Shane is arguably the greatest western ever filmed, and certainly one of the most imitated. Alan Ladd stands about ten feet tall as the big-hearted gunfighter who defends a family of sodbusters against the unscrupulous acts of the local cattle baron. As touching and riveting as the day it was released, this is one of those rare movies, like Casablanca, which is timeless in its appeal. The cast is magnificent, the direction is excellent, and the plot is irresistably engaging. It may not have been the first, but it is, without doubt, the best of the feel-good westerns. In this film, Alan Ladd and Jack Palance define for all time the white hat/black hat, good guy versus bad guy scenario which has become so cliche in lesser movies over the years. If you've never seen Shane, don't rent it--buy it. You will want to watch it over and over again. I love The Wild Bunch, Clint's spaghetti westerns, John Wayne's classics, and the venerable High Noon, but if I could own only one western, it would have to be Shane.
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Great little horror collection for fans of Hammer type films
For fans of 1970s Hammer type horror films, this movie should be a treat. The only thing I didn't like about the film was the fact that Peter Cushing was wasted on the worst episode. In general, however, this is a solid, spooky little movie. If this is not Amicus' best film, it's certainly one of them. The best episode, rightfully saved for last, is the one featuring Jon Pertwee as a horror film actor--it is really excellent. As good as Pertwee was in this role, it's hard to believe he didn't do more of these types of movies. All in all, this is an entertaining movie, which scared the heck out of me as a child, and which still gives me the creeps to this day.
Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
Classic William Castle
Many consider William Castle to be a sort of used car salesman turned film-maker. Admittedly, he relies heavily on hype, and admittedly his hype has worn a little thin over the years, but Bill Castle has been involved with some memorable movies over the years. The Tingler, Rosemary's Baby, Strait Jacket, and Mr. Sardonicus are his most entertaining ventures. No doubt, Mr. Sardonicus will seem awfully tame to younger audiences seeking shock value and graphic gore, but to those who enjoy a more old fashioned style of horror film, Sardonicus has a definite appeal. The story line is very unique, the acting is good (especially by Guy Rolfe playing the title character), and the ending is great. Rolfe is great as the kindly, respectful peasant turned nasty, unfeeling aristocrat. Sure, the special effects are a little long in the tooth, but sit a young child down in front of this movie and watch his/her reaction when Sardonicus reveals his condition. I remember being scared witless watching this as a youth. Actually, I wouldn't recommend this movie for the very young, but it's a lot of fun for the young at heart. If you enjoy 1950s horror films, check out this little-known gem.
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
One of the ten best of all time!
I thought I had seen all of the important movies made during the past fifty years, but somehow I had missed Sunset Boulevard. I had seen parodies of the characters and was familiar with the story line, but I was really not prepared for this gem. Wow! When it comes to great acting, it just does not get any better. I really couldn't care less about the film's commentary on Hollywood; I watch this film to be mesmerized by Gloria Swanson. The premise of a kept man is creepy enough, but Swanson really takes this movie to another plane. If you have never seen this classic, do yourself a big favor and rent it. You will enjoy every minute. Very few movies can be called perfect, and this one may not be, but it is awfully close.
A charming movie that could only be made in the 50s
One would think Charleton Heston miscast in any kind of comedy, especially one that might be described as "cute." But the truth is, he is great in this film. You might have to be a baby boomer to appreciate this movie--it's definitely an old-fashioned comedy. If you enjoy the old Doris Day type comedies, you will probably enjoy this one. Heston is a perfect mixture of machoism and awkwardness and most of the boys do good jobs in supporting roles, but the best role is that played by Milburn Stone (Doc of Gunsmoke) as General Ramsey. If you can enjoy a quaint comedy with no four letter words or violence, this movie might just put a smile on your face.
El Dorado (1967)
A tame, but very entertaining, western
El Dorado may never be mentioned with Shane, The Searchers, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the classic westerns of all time, but it is still a great bit of film-making. John Wayne plays his usual solid role, but it is the surrounding cast and Howard Hawks' direction which really make this an excellent and very entertaining movie. Mitchum is fantastic as the washed up sheriff, and Arthur Hunnicutt is irreplaceable as the "ol injun fighter" Bull. James Caan and his sawed-off shotgun are also very good. If there is a weakness in the movie, it would be the casting of Christopher George as a "feared" gunslinger (oh, come on), but even George can't bring down this well-written gem. My favorite scenes are not those with lots of action, but rather those that feature great jailhouse banter between the main characters. If your idea of a great western is the Wild Bunch, this might be a little too tame for you. But if you don't mind the idea of decent action mixed with great dialogue, this is a must see. By the way, this is a remake of Hawks' Rio Bravo, which is much less of a film. Hawks learned from his mistakes in the first movie and El Dorado stands as one of his best efforts.
The Professionals (1966)
One of the best westerns ever made!
I am always amazed when people start talking about great westerns and fail to mention this absolutely fantastic movie. It belongs in the same class with The Wild Bunch and The Magnificent Seven (both great movies). Burt Lancaster is unforgettable, Lee Marvin is perfect, Woody Strode is awesome, and Robert Ryan is unfortunately somewhat wasted in a lesser role. As a whole, this is one of the great westerns, and for that matter one of the great action films, of all time. In addition, the supporting actors, mostly Hispanic, all contribute to a very believable story of men on an unbelievable mission. Well written, well acted, fast-paced, and action packed--what more can you ask for? Definitely one of the most entertaining westerns ever made.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
Knott's best film
Lots of fun. This is without doubt Don Knotts' best film role--the role he was born to play. No one could have portrayed the nervous, constantly agitated Luther Heggs like Knotts. Wonderful entertainment for the whole family. If the anxious, self-doubting stereotypic Knotts character turns you off, then this movie is not for you. However, if you loved Knotts as Barney Fife, you should get a kick out of Mr. Chicken. There are many good scenes, but my favorite is the pained speech he gives at the picnic--hilarious.
Father Goose (1964)
One of Grant's Best
The final motion picture of Cary Grant's career was also one of his best. Grant, who will always be known for his suave, sophisticated demeanor, was one of the most talented comedic actors of all time. His flair for comedy is certainly evident in Father Goose. Playing the crusty recluse Walter Eklund, Grant is going against his stereotypic debonair role, and it works perfectly. It's a treat to just sit back and watch the expressions on Grant's face as he is constantly set upon by circumstances beyond his control. Leslie Caron and Trevor Howard are also very good in supporting roles. A great family movie which, to my knowledge at least, has never received the recognition it deserves. I've watched this movie dozens of times and its humor and Grant's talent never diminish.
The Stepfather (1987)
Definitely worth a look!
Terry O'Quinn plays a fantastic nut case in this great little thriller. Although there is some blood and violence in the film, The Stepfather is far from being a slasher type movie. What lifts it above the standard fare is O'Quinn's very believable portrayal of Jerry Blake -- a certifiable whacko. Some favorite scenes are when Blake meets his step daughter's psychologist, when Blake has a discussion with himself in the basement, and when he has a little trouble with his identity while on the phone. Not the best movie ever filmed, but O'Quinn makes it worth your time.
7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
Great movie to watch with the kids
If you are constantly looking for movies you can watch with your children, and which have enough going for them that they can keep your interest too, this is a good choice. An excellent mixture of fantasy and sentimentality, Dr. Lao is the type of movie which is simply not made any more. Most of the makeup and special effects (with the possible exception of the abominable snowman) are fun and entertaining, the plot is decent, and Tony Randall is great as the "old Chinese faker." The scene where Arthur O'Connell meets his scaly alter ego is a classic bit of film-making. Lots of fun for all ages. Besides, any movie with Royal Dano in it is always worth a look.
The Asphyx (1972)
Great Little Movie!
This is one of those rare small movies which has a great plot, decent special effects (for the time), and good acting. For the horror/sci-fi fan who does not require gore and shock value to enjoy a movie, this is a real treat. There are some minor flaws if you look closely, but they do not detract from the film as a whole. It is the atmosphere of the film which raises it above other works of the same era. I wish they could remake it with modern computer graphics and retain the same quaint eeriness, but I don't think modern audiences care much about atmosphere. Out of ten, I would give it a solid eight.