Tag Archive for '1970s'

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (4/22/15) TCM (1974 ***) Directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Robert Getchell, starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Alfred Lutter III, Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd and Vic Tayback as Mel. A widow and her smart-ass son try to make a new life for themselves in Tuscon, Arizona. This film was shown as part of TCM’s Essentials series, introduced by Robert Osbourne and Sally Field. I personally find it hard to agree with the assessment of the film as truly required watching. That may be due to the fact that I was watching it in the futuristic world of 2015, forty years too late. Undoubtedly, the film must have had considerably more impact in the era it was originally released, but I honestly didn’t find it all that interesting. The film is mostly a character study about a single mother I didn’t really relate to. Though I have respect for the film’s anti-chauvinist themes. I may also be slightly (though not much) spoiled by having watched the sit-com it inspired, Alice (1976-1985), when I was a kid. At any rate, considering the rest of Scorse’s career, this was a strange directorial choice, one that came after Mean Streets (1973) and before Taxi Driver (1976).

Godspell

Godspell (4/5/15) TCM (1973 ****) Directed by David Greene, based on the musical by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, starring Victor Garber, David Haskell, Katie Hanley, Merrell Jackson and others. The Gospel According to St. Matthew is brought to musical life by a bunch of face-painting hippies in the vacant streets of New York City. It’s not exactly a tradition, but I often think of watching this film each Easter, and it was on an Easter morning that I did. I’ve loved this film since I was a child and I’m embarrassed to admit I basically cried continuously all the way through. While I’m very familiar with Godspell, I seem to see something new with each viewing. This time around I recognized, possibly for the first time, just how well-directed it was. Looking at its director David Greene’s filmography, his greatest awards success was in television, including an Emmy in 1977 for Roots. Another thing I think I’ve probably noticed previously but don’t remember if I’ve ever written it down: One of the film’s most famous images (and used on the cover of the soundtrack album) is the cast dancing atop one of the Twin Towers while it was still under construction. Watching Godspell with post-9/11 eyes, the film’s opening imagery with the World Trade Center coupled with the sound of a jet airplane is especially spooky. On a personal note: This was the first time I’ve watched Godspell since my mother passed away, and I’ll always be grateful to her for taking me to see this film and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) when they were originally released. (Favorite)

High Anxiety

High Anxiety (3/28/15) Encore (1977 **1/2) Directed and co-written by Mel Brooks, starring Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. An acrophobic Doctor of Psychiatry takes over an institute for the very, very nervous and winds up embroiled in a murderous case of mistaken identity. I had seen this film at least once before, and my recollection was that it wasn’t great. While I admire Mel Brooks, and appreciate that the films he’s made over his career have primarily been genre-skewing satires, I’m afraid his films don’t speak to me in the same way Woody Allen’s have. In order for High Anxiety to have worked really well, it had to function both as a witty send-up of Hitchcock and also as a stand-alone story. I don’t think it accomplished either of those goals particularly well, and instead spent far too much time focusing on mediocre fear of heights gags.

Black Sunday

Black Sunday (2/15/15) Retroplex (1977 ***) Directed by John Frankenheimer, based on the novel by Thomas Harris, starring Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern and Marthe Keller. An Israeli terrorism expert must do whatever it takes to stop a devastating bomb plot at the Super Bowl. I have to admit that prior to watching this film I was only familiar with Shaw from his role as Quint in Jaws (1975). He was quite good in this film, playing a man with the worse job imaginable and absolutely no sense of humor. Watching this film from the futuristic post 9/11 vantage point of 2015, it’s a bit of a challenge to appreciate how the world saw terrorism nearly forty years ago. In spite of a little overly dramatic acting on the part of Bruce Dern, Black Sunday was pretty realistic and ripe with verisimilitude. Well, up to the fight atop the Goodyear blimp, anyway. Another reason to watch this film is the score by John Williams, who was still a few months or years away from his most iconic work with Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Superman (1978) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

That’s Entertainment, Part II

That’s Entertainment, Part II (1/1/15) TCM (1976 ***1/2) Directed by Gene Kelly, starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, with clips from Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby and many, many other MGM stars. The song and dance celebration continues, with this sequel to the popular star-studded clips film. In this second instalment, Gene Kelly took over directing reins and the format was modified a bit. Instead of an array of ageing stars, Gene Kelly and/or Fred Astaire introduced all the segments. With all due respect to the late Gene Kelly, the result wasn’t as strong, and relied too heavily on awkward photo props that undoubtedly ate up much of the budget. Having said that, the clips presented were still great, even if the creme de la creme (like Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence) had been used for the first film.

That’s Entertainment!

That’s Entertainment! (12/31/14) TCM (1974 ****) Written and directed by Jack Haley Jr., starring Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart and many other MGM greats. The late Frank Sinatra provided bookends to an array of stars introducing various thematically-grouped collections of clips from MGM’s glory days. I’ve seen this film many times in my life. Part of my enjoyment of it now is considering the context in which it was first released. 1974, which was a world with no VCRs, DVRs, Youtube or Netflix. Though the movies in the MGM library were shown on television, it must have taken an act of courage to create this nostalgic tribute for theatrical distribution. Given that it spawned a sequel two years later, it must have been successful. Anyhow, forty years after its release, the film remains a grand sampler platter of the output of MGM’s Arthur Freed unit.

Earthquake

Earthquake (12/7/14) Cinemax (1974 ***) Directed by Mark Robson, written by George Fox and Mario Puzo, starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Geneviève Bujold , George Kennedy, Richard Roundtree and Victoria Principal. A seismologist egghead warns that conditions are favorable for Los Angeles to experience “The Big One,” and, surprise, surprise, it turns out he’s right! Irwin Allen disaster films were really a genre into themselves. I’m sure some film history brainiacs have linked the popularity of his films with the Nixon White House, Vietnam and Watergate. Watching this film, which I may have seen as a kid but had largely forgotten, its structure with a multitude of character paths intersecting (not to mention an odd cameo by Walter “Matuschanskayasky” Matthau as “Drunk.”) reminded me more than anything of The Love Boat. As someone who’s lived in Los Angeles for more than ten years now, a big part of the fun of watching Earthquake was just the various locations.

The New Adventures of Batman, Season 1

The New Adventures of Batman, Season 1 (11/15/14) DVD (1977 **) Directed by various, featuring the voices of Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), Melendy Britt (Batgirl) and Lou Scheimer (Bat-Mite). 16 episodes, originally aired 2/12/77 – 5/28/77. Batman, Robin, Batgirl and other-dimensional imp Bat-Mite protect Gotham City from a variety of super villains. God bless Filmation, the “animation-on-the-cheap” studio behind so many cartoons from my childhood. And I did watch these cartoons, both when they were originally aired and later when they were re-broadcast as part of the Batman / Tarzan Adventure Hour. Believe it or not, at one point Batman and Robin were on Saturday morning TV at the same time on competing networks: This program aired on CBS and (more famously) they were also on ABC with Super Friends (1973-79, 1981). I’m sure that is the answer to a trivia question somewhere. I bought this show on DVD because it featured the voices of Adam West and Burt Ward (though sadly excluded Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl). Did I enjoy it? Well, my tepid 2-star review probably provides a clue. It was actually quite a kick to hear Adam West’s voice, and he was terrific. Burt Ward’s voice, on the other hand, was not nearly as distinctive, though it was still nice to know it was my childhood idol. I was somewhat ambivalent about the inclusion of Bat-Mite, since his presence was based on the “Scrappy Doo” cartoon fad of the time, but of course the episodes would have improved by his absence. The animation quality was certainly not up to modern standards, but I had a certain interest in seeing all the re-use of animation assets. However, after watching a couple of episodes I wound up treating it more as a radio program, half-watching while working on an art project. But even then it was lacking: The writing, was pretty mediocre and, while I acknowledge that TV animation writing has come a long way (baby) since the 1970s, I have a feeling it was even sub-par for the time. Overall, the $17.80 I spent for the 2-disc DVD was probably not the best use of my money.

Night of Dark Shadows

Night of Dark Shadows (11/10/14) TCM (1971 *1/2) Directed by Dan Curtis, starring David Selby, Grayson Hall, Kate Jackson, John Carlen and Lara Parker as Angelique Collins. When a painter and his wife move to Collinsport, Maine to take over a mansion they’ve inherited, they learn their new home is already occupied… by the ghost of a witch named Angelique! Look, folks: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the classic Dark Shadows (1966-1971) TV show. Hell, I even own the Barnabas Collins and Angelique action figures. But with all due respect to Dan Curtis, this second film was almost unwatchable. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t make much of an effort to follow its storyline. But hey, did I mention it features a young Kate Jackson of Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981) fame?

House of Dark Shadows

House of Dark Shadows (11/8/14) TCM (1970 **1/2) Directed by Dan Curtis, starring Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis, Nancy Barrett and John Karlen. The sleepy seaport town of Collinsport, Maine gets a new resident: A 200-year-old vampire who comes across as tragically sympathetic in spite of his bloodthirsty habits. First, a confession: I’m a definite fan of the original Dark Shadows (1966-1971) soap opera, and am even old enough to have caught a couple of (literally) nightmare-inducing episodes during its original run. This feature-length re-telling of Barnabas Collins’ story, directed by the soap opera’s creator, is an odd film, and very much a product of the era in which it was produced. Sadly, it’s not a particularly good film. Unlike the TV show, which was largely shot on sets in a Manhattan TV studio, the film was mostly set on location. I can’t help but wish the production values had been better. Then again, it was a film undoubtedly produced on a budget and aimed at the teenage drive-in crowd.