Category Archives: 1970s

#327 Days Of Heaven

(1978, Terrence Malick)

“Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around”

So, I’ve not heard of this movie. So let’s see what kind of reaction it got on release.

“The film was not warmly received on its original theatrical release, with many critics finding only the imagery worthy of praise”

Oh. Well. That’s not really the best start. Well, critics disagree all the time. Maybe it’s not all that bad? I guess I’ll have to find out for myself and hope for the best. It’ll be okay, right? Right?

So, Days Of Heaven stars Richard Gere and Brooke Adams as Bill & Abby, two lovers living in 1916. To the outside world, they present themselves as brother and sister to avoid people talking about them, and they travel across America seeking out manual work, along with Bill’s younger sister Linda (Linda Manz). While working on a wealthy landowner’s farm, the landowner (Sam Shepard) falls for Abby and asks for her hand in marriage. Due to an unspecified medical condition, the landowner is likely to die within a year, so Abby agrees to the marriage under the intention of claiming his land for herself and Bill following his death.

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#325 Network

(1976, Sidney Lumet)

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Network appears to be a film with some degree of minor cult success. You don’t usually hear about it listed in typical Best Films Ever lists, but it does turn up once or twice on some individuals’ lists. It’s a movie that I have been quite intrigued by, so today I’ll be taking a look at it.

Network is the story of the UBS Evening News, and its anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch). After poor ratings, Beale is informed that he is to be taken off the air, which leads him to announce his suicide on-air. His boss, Max Schumacher (William Holden), urges the network to give him a second chance…and Beale immediately goes on air to denounce everything as “bullshit”. However, far from causing an upset, his rant becomes a ratings hit, and the corporate interests at the network take note. This includes programming director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who seeks out anything that can get the network the best ratings, regardless of any moral concerns.

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#321 & #322 Night Of The Living Dead & Dawn Of The Dead

(1968/1978, George A. Romero)

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra”


So while other movie blogs have seen reviewers watch horror movies all through October, I kept up my regular thing of a special horror review on Halloween itself. But I reviewed Halloween last year, so where could I possibly go this year? A quick glance at the 1001 Movies list showed me that two of George Romero’s Dead movies were on my to-watch list, so I figured, how about a double review of these classic zombie movies?

After all, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid zombie fiction lately what with the success of games like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead being one of the most popular shows on TV right now. So why not spend this Halloween taking a look at where the modern zombie image came from?

Night Of The Living Dead, the first in the series, starts out with siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) visiting their father’s grave. Soon things turn sour when Johnny is attacked and murdered by a strange, lumbering man. When Barbra runs away, she finds herself trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by more of these murderous people with a man named Ben (Duane Jones), an embittered married couple with a sick child, and a teenage couple who fled when they heard emergency broadcasts. Then shenanigans.

Dawn Of The Dead, released ten years later, is set in the midst of the zombie outbreak, and two SWAT team officers, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger), join forces with two employees from a local TV station who have stolen the station’s helicopter, Stephen (David Emge) and Francine (Gaylen Ross). Together they journey to a shopping mall for supplies, and decide to turn it into their own personal base to hide out from the apocalypse. Then shenanigans. Read the rest of this entry

#316 The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie

(1976, John Cassavetes)

“I’ve got a golden life. Got the world by the balls”

I’ve encountered John Cassavetes exactly twice before on this blog in two films from 1968, one starring him and another directed by him. In Rosemary’s Baby, he had the dubious honour of casually announcing that he’d raped his wife in her sleep, and his movie Faces was a drab, meandering mess of a movie that said nothing and spent too long doing that. So my hopes aren’t exactly high for The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

Ben Gazzara plays strip club owner Cosmo Vitelli, who goes out to celebrate being free of a mob debt and ironically ends up back in debt to the mob due to gambling too much of his money away. In order to pay his debt, the mob demands that Vitelli take on a hitman job, to kill a Chinese bookie who’s been causing problems for the mafia. Read the rest of this entry

#314 Serpico

(1973, Sidney Lumet)

“The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier”

Corruption in the police isn’t a novel concept in film, and despite the 1001 Movies book asserting that it was new at the time of this film’s making, it really wasn’t (film noir was already a thing, and covered this ground several times). But the fact that this is a true story exposing real corruption, that’s something that Serpico has going for it. As a result, I was very excited to see this. Did it live up to my expectations?

Al Pacino plays Frank Serpico, a police officer with good morals and ideals, with the desire to help people and achieve justice through his position. After excelling in uniform, Serpico is eventually raised through the ranks to plainclothes, and then it all goes wrong from there, as it slowly becomes apparent that his colleagues aren’t as honest as he is. And so begins an attempt to expose the corruption and improve standards in the force, at the expense of his own happiness and success.

Serpico opens dramatically, with the titular cop bleeding after being shot in the face and being rushed to hospital as various people are informed about the incident and there’s a general sense of foreboding and action and shouting down phones and it’s all very exciting.

Imagine my disappointment that this is about as interesting as the film gets for much of its running time. After this, the movie flashes back to his days in uniform, and begins to steadily take us through his career. The problem is, the movie seems unsure of how to shove several years into the space of an hour, so does do by rushing through what it feels to be key points. The problem is, it’s not always clear that scenes have gaps of months and even years between them, and sometimes it struggles to stay focused on things that are important to the central plot.

The point where I realised things were rushing and playing wildly with timeframes was a scene where Serpico is informed that he’ll get to work in plainclothes, and the very next scene having a character say to him, “you’ve been with us two years now” and making me wonder what the hell just happened.

As for the extraneous things that don’t help, there is a lot of focus on Serpico’s personal life, as he goes on dates with women. From what I can tell, these scenes were supposed to flesh out his character and make us aware of how much he identified with the 1960s counterculture, which helped fuel the conflict in his life, but generally, everything felt rushed and poorly constructed, leaving the viewer feeling like these scenes were a distraction. In fact, I only found out that Frank Serpico identified with the counterculture movement through independent research for this review, and only then realised that’s what the film was going for.

When the movie remembers what it’s about and maintains a focus on his drive to expose corruption, there’s quite a bit to like here, but it’s so bogged down in external stuff that sometimes it made me wonder why I was bothering watching. It felt like there was ambition to tell a story about Serpico, but it wasn’t sure what to focus on.

It also didn’t help that often the corrupt cops were more of a faceless mass as opposed to individual characters, presented as Serpico and Those Other Guys. This made it harder to connect with Serpico’s plight. This made it harder to understand the corruption. We know the cops are on the take, we know they’re using impounded drugs, but the extent of all of this feels vague and almost imagined in Serpico’s eyes. The other cops felt like pantomime villains, not real people, and this is where I had a problem.

In addition, while Al Pacino did a generally good job of portraying the lead character, there were times when he veered far too much into silliness, especially as he got angrier, and as the movie progressed, while I recognised his goals as noble, I could no longer connect with him as a character.

Basically, all of this can be summed up by me stating that Serpico was a massive disappointment. I expected more. I wanted an exciting cop drama. I wanted a tense thriller. I did not want a lumbering, confused mess of a movie that consistently forgot what it was trying to do.

Starring Al Pacino
Written by Peter Maas (book) and Waldo Salt & Norman Wexler
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Roger M. Rothstein & Martin Bregman
Music by Mikis Theodorakis & Giacomo Puccini
Cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz
Edited by Dede Allen, Richard Marks, Ronald Roose & Angelo Corrao

Favourite Scene: Any time the movie actually got on with what it was supposed to be doing.
Scene That Bugged Me: Al Pacino slams a chair against the floor repeatedly in a rage. This was silly and unnecessary.

Watch it if: You like rambling stories about cops
Avoid it if: You want a clear account of Frank Serpico’s life

#305 McCabe & Mrs Miller

(1971, Robert Altman)

“If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain’t going to think much of him”

It’s that time again! Time for me to slog my way through a film in one of my least favourite genres – the Western. Fortunately, this time John Wayne isn’t coming over the horizon and there don’t appear to be any Cowboys and Injuns propping up the story. In fact, today’s movie claims to be an “anti-Western”, although Dead Man claimed that too and look where that got us.

McCabe & Mrs Miller is about a man named McCabe and a woman named Mrs Miller (duh). McCabe (Warren Beatty) comes to the town of Presbyterian Church, a lawless mining town with no direction, and asserts himself on the people with his aggressive personality and rumours of a gunfighting past. Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives shortly afterwards and informs him that she could run a successful brothel in the town, and the two form a professional partnership and occasional romantic one too. However, the town’s growing prosperity is threatened with the arrival of two agents from a ruthless corporate mining company, who wish to take the town from them.

Normally I don’t like Westerns, as regular readers will know, but sometimes exceptions do turn up. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid was one (to an extent), and McCabe & Mrs Miller is another. That said, this doesn’t translate into a love of the movie, more a respect for the quality film-making at work even though I still personally didn’t enjoy it.

Let’s start with the good parts, shall we? McCabe & Mrs Miller is full of some really great moments, mostly centred on the title characters’ interactions with one another. McCabe desperately trying to drunkenly gain Constance’s attention, her ability to chew him out for his apparent lack of genuine business sense, and the fact that we have two brash, headstrong characters respectfully (and not so respectfully) clashing with one another time and time again.

McCabe, loud and drunk and boastful, is actually a useless businessman and a coward when it comes to gun fights. Mrs Miller is far from being a hooker with a heart of gold, and more a savvy, scheming woman with grand ambitions living in a time when being a woman with ambitions was frowned upon rather heavily. Both Beatty and Christie play these roles to their absolute best, and I loved their characters.

I also felt that the town itself was beautifully realised. It gradually builds up as the movie progresses, and almost becomes a character in its own right. Set design isn’t something I normally point out, but it’s an integral part of this movie, and it feels wrong not to mention it.

Despite these wonderful things though, I felt the movie was lacking in other areas. Plot-wise, I felt that the movie was a little unfocused. The central conflict at the heart of the movie just didn’t really feel like it was there at all. We’re supposed to believe the town is under threat by unscrupulous corporate forces, and yet we only see two agents and a possible hitman who sits in a nearby café biding his time as if he’s a final boss waiting for McCabe to clear his dungeon.

Also, while the interactions between McCabe and Mrs Miller were awesome, they also felt a little sparse. There’s apparently a romantic angle to their interactions, but it feels a little poorly-handled at times. There are times when I feel it could have been explored better, since we get hints of McCabe being upset about Constance sleeping with other men (she is a prostitute, after all), but it’s only partially covered. It felt like it was building to something but it was ultimately unresolved.

Also, I struggled to follow the final shootout that ended the movie. Characters seemed to teleport around the mountain and stalk each other. It went on for far too long and didn’t really seem to achieve anything. It also led to a fairly unsatisfactory ending that left me feeling hugely disappointed.

McCabe & Mrs Miller is probably the best Western I’ve seen alongside Butch Cassidy, but it still doesn’t go far enough to make me like the genre. I tolerated this thanks to some fine performances, but certainly not a film I’d rush to see again.

Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Murphy, William Devane, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Keith Carradine & Bert Remsen
Written by Edmund Naughton (novel) and Robert Altman & Brian McKay
Produced by Mitchell Brower & David Foster
Music by Leonard Cohen
Cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond
Edited by Lou Lombardo

Favourite Scene: Mrs Miller chewing out McCabe for his apparent inability to do his own finances pretty much sums up their whole relationship.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why exactly is that hitman just sitting around in a café for most of the movie?

Watch it if: You’re looking for a decent non-Wayne western
Avoid it if: You like straightforward westerns

#294 The Marriage Of Maria Braun

(1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Die Ehe der Maria Braun

“Most happy people look indecent when one is unhappy”

Two films ago we looked at a German movie set vaguely around war but not actually about war. Well, it seems like there’s a theme developing because here’s another one! Today, we’re taking a look at influential German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his movie The Marriage of Maria Braun.

As you would imagine from the title, the movie is about Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla), who gets married to Hermann, a soldier during World War II. After spending half a day and a whole night together, Hermann returns to the front, leaving the marriage unfulfilled. The film tracks the time of the marriage, during which Maria takes on a series of extramarital relationships, all for the benefit of her husband. It’s…that kind of movie.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun opens with a bang. No really, the first thing we see is an explosion as the war comes to Maria’s wedding and blows off the wall of the church. It’s certainly a way to grab attention, but sadly the rest of the movie is a bit more of a whimper than a bang.

Almost immediately after this dramatic opening, the movie slides into mundane tedium as Maria goes about her daily life, albeit without her husband present because the war has split them because war is hell, don’t you know? (More movies should cover this topic, I don’t think it’s been done enough)

That said, it’s not completely tedious. There’s a murder in there somewhere, and Maria loses her mind occasionally and has outbursts about the terribleness of her life, and lots of stuff happens, but it all just feels a bit…pointless.

Don’t get me wrong. Schygulla puts in a great performance as Maria, making her as likeable as she possibly can be, but the problem is that Maria just isn’t that great a character. She sleeps around in ways that are supposedly beneficial to her marriage while showing very little in the way of morals and generally she comes across as a bit of a bitch. Not really easy to like a protagonist like this, no matter how well she’s played.

The other performances I can’t be so positive about. American characters appear to be played by Germans affecting American accents in English and struggling to maintain them. Maria’s husband is a tad generic. And Maria’s final affair is with a corporate executive so apparently evil he may as well walk around twirling his moustache.

Plot-wise, there is plenty going on, but there’s a lot of time-skips and the movie feels a tad hyperactive as a result. What’s more, by the time the plot finishes up, we’re left with a sense that while a lot happened, it was all for nothing, and not in a way that makes us think, just in a way that makes us wonder why we weren’t doing something else for the last two hours.

I also think there’s some kind of message here, possible some kind of commentary on the struggles of being a woman, especially during a time of war. Sadly, it doesn’t come across too well and more often than not I was left wondering if I was just imagining that message.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun is ultimately one of the worst films for me to review. It’s the kind of film that leaves me feeling absolutely nothing at all by the time it ends. It’s not incredibly bad, but it’s also not particularly good either. It’s just kind of there, doing things and maybe trying to impart a message, but not communicating it very well.

Starring Hanna Schygulla, Klaus Löwitsch, Ivan Desny & Gisela Uhlen
Written by Peter Märthesheimer & Pea Fröhlich
Produced by Michael Fengler
Music by Peer Raben
Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Juliane Lorenz

Favourite Scene: Uhhh…
Scene That Bugged Me: Uhhhhh….

Watch it if: You like plodding German movies (again)
Avoid it if: You like to leave a movie with some kind of impression

#290 Barry Lyndon

(1975, Stanley Kubrick)

I will probably never understand the appeal of period drama. I see the powdered wigs and corsets and I just want to run screaming. But perhaps that negative perception could change for me with Kubrick’s take on the genre – Barry Lyndon.

Barry Lyndon follows the life and times of an Irishman named Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal). He is seduced by his cousin Nora (Gay Hamilton), who ultimately drops him and marries an English captain named John Quin (Leonard Rossiter), prompting Barry to kill him in a duel. Barry flees and ends up joining the English army. From there he deserts the army, becomes a spy in the Prussian army and generally does a bunch of other things and becomes a member of the aristocracy.

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#279 Stalker

Сталкер

(1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)

“What was the point in coming here?”

I’ve watched two Andrei Tarkovsky movies before here on SvTM, and both times I was struck by how much Tarkovsky’s style seemed to be based around actively avoid telling an actual story and spending half his time navel-gazing. So here’s Stalker, another Tarkovsky movie, this time with a vaguely interesting premise, so perhaps this is a case of third time’s the charm?

Stalker starts by letting us know that something fell from space, and the area where this mysterious object landed became the site of various disappearances, causing the government to cordon it off and label it as “The Zone”, with access only allowed in special circumstances. Special people who become aware of how to navigate The Zone without weird stuff happening to them begin to guide lost souls to the mysterious room in the centre, which will allegedly make your innermost wish come true.

The movie focuses on one particular “Stalker” (Alexander Kaidonovsky) who leads two men into The Zone with their own purposes – The Writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn), a sarcastic and bitter man, and The Professor (Nikolai Grinko), an old and somewhat nervous man.

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#275 The Muppet Movie

(1979, James Frawley)

“Kermit, does this film have socially redeeming value?”

Hello everyone. It’s my birthday today. And so, to prevent me from being enraged by an overhyped Hollywood epic or baffled by European arthouse cinema on my day, I picked a film I knew I would enjoy. Today I am reviewing The Muppet Movie.

I love the Muppets. In fact, everyone loves The Muppets. If you don’t like The Muppets, you’re weird. The Muppets are a lovable bunch of silly puppets and the world would be a much worse place without them in it. They’ve made a few movies in their time too, from adapting literary classics with A Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island to the recent release of Muppets Most Wanted. Today, we’re looking at where their cinematic career began, the simply-titled Muppet Movie.

Essentially an origin story for the gang of entertainers, it starts with Kermit The Frog (performed by Jim Henson) playing his banjo in the swamps when a Hollywood agent rows up to him in a boat saying that Hollywood is looking for entertaining frogs. And so, Kermit sets off on an adventure to Hollywood to gain super-stardom, where he meets new friends along the way such as Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo and the strangely alluring (to Kermit) Miss Piggy. Shenanigans ensue.

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