Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

TV Review: In Search of… (1977-1982)

Original Run: April 17th, 1977 – March 1st, 1982
Created by: Alan Landsburg Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis, Mike Lewis
Cast: Leonard Nimoy (presenter, host, narrator)

Alan Landsburg Productions, Rhodes Productions, *syndicated, 144 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

While it’s been decades since I’ve seen this show, I used to watch it in the late ’80s and early ’90s, where it would rerun on late night syndication. It was a favorite of mine, as were many of the television shows, back then, that dealt with ghosts, aliens, cryptids and other cool, unexplainable mysteries.

Out of all of these shows, though, this one was always my favorite. That probably has a lot to do with Leonard Nimoy being the host and narrator but it also has to do with it being kind of stylish and dated, even a decade later. The low budget ’70s television panache just made it a bit more magical and otherworldly than the similar shows that were current at the time.

I had no idea that there were as many as 144 episodes until I actually bought the DVD set off of Amazon, which is really cheap, by the way.

So while I haven’t watched the series in its entirety, yet, I have revisited some of the most memorable episodes and they bring me back to that magical place I was when I first experienced them.

That being said, it’s probably hard to review this without nostalgia giving it a boost but I think it’ll hit those same notes in people that already have a love of the weird, as well as television shows from this era.

While this is presented in a documentary style, the conclusions presented in the show are simply based off of the evidence that they had at the time. The show isn’t dishonest, as it admits to conjecture in its opening introduction. However, it’s sort of a time capsule now, as it presents these mysteries through the eyes, findings and interpretations of the world nearly forty-five years ago.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other shows about mysterious phenomenon, cryptozoology and things still left unexplained by science.

Film Review: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Also known as: Sinbad’s Golden Voyage (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1973 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Brian Clemens
Based on: Sinbad the Sailor from One Thousand and One Nights
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: John Phillip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro, Takis Emmanuel, Douglas Wilmer, Martin Shaw, Robert Shaw (uncredited)

Morningside Productions, Ameran Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel!” – Sinbad

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect to love this movie as much as I did. I honestly just wanted to check it out because it had Caroline Munro in it. I mean, I was also sold on the fact that it had Ray Harryhausen stop-motion special effects, as well as Tom Baker and John Phillip Law in it.

I still figured that this would just be slightly better than meh.

To my surprise, this movie was a heck of an adventure that was packed full of action and charming characters that had solid and jovial camaraderie.

This really has the same spirit as a classic swashbuckler while also adding in some cool fantasy elements and special effects that were, honestly, some of the best I’ve seen from this era. Had I been a kid in 1973 and seen this in the theater, I would’ve loved the hell out of it.

I like Sinbad movies and frankly, I should actually watch more of them. Especially, the others that also feature Harryhausen’s work. His creatures in this were friggin’ great. I was most impressed by the six armed statue and her sword fight with the film’s hero.

I thought that the story was pretty good too and I really liked the casting.

John Phillip Law was enjoyable as Sinbad but Tom Baker was intriguing as hell as the evil sorcerer. It’s really cool seeing Baker play such a bastard when he’s most known for playing one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor on Doctor Who.

If you’ve ever read any of my reviews of movies with Caroline Munro in them, then you know how I feel about her in everything. As far as I’m concerned, she should’ve been the leading woman in every film from the ’70s and into the ’80s.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is an entertaining popcorn movie and that’s all it needed to be. Luckily for us, the filmmakers went the extra mile and gave us something fairly exceptional.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Sinbad movies, especially those with special effects by Ray Harryhausen.

Documentary Review: F for Fake (1973)

Also known as: Hoax (original script title), ?, Fakes, Fakes!!, About Fakes (working titles), Truth and Lies (alternative title), Fraude (Spain)
Release Date: September, 1973 (Spain – San Sebastián Film Festival)
Directed by: Orson Welles, François Reichenbach, Gary Graver, Oja Kodar
Written by: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Orson Welles, Oja Kodar, Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Edith Irving, Francois Reichenbach

Les Films de l’Astrophore, SACI, Janus Film und Fernsehen, 89 Minutes

Review:

“What we professional liars hope to serve is truth. I’m afraid the pompous word for that is “art”.” – Orson Welles

People have debated for quite some time whether this is a documentary or itself a forgery. After seeing it, I think it’s a little bit of both while also just being a really cool art piece that Orson Welles left us with to cap off his filmmaking career.

The film examines two notable forgers. One man makes fake Picasso paintings, the other wrote a fraudulent biography about Howard Hughes.

I loved the opening sequence of this scene, which set the stage for the film’s story and tone, as Welles did magic tricks for children while describing how magicians were actually actors.

It’s actually kind of hard to describe what the film is, though. While there seems to be some truth that this is based on, the movie begins to take some creative and narrative liberties, as it takes the viewer down a strange, jovial and entertaining rabbit hole. Before you realize what’s happening, you’re lost in this deep well of Welles’ creativity.

Some describe this as a film essay but it’s definitely a real work of art and it displays how “outside the box” Welles’ thinking and creativity were.

What really grabbed me with this film was the style of editing. Welles always did things before the rest of his contemporaries caught on (or stole from him) and this movie is no different. He has these stylish, quick edits that move the narrative along pretty quickly and with that, make this a much more energetic documentary than what was the standard in the early 1970s.

I also love his style of narration and how he acts out scenes the way he does as a presenter. Welles was never short on charisma and charm and despite his older age, he hasn’t lost it. Frankly, I could watch the guy talk about anything for hours and he’d still make it entertaining even if the subject matter wasn’t very interesting.

F for Fake is an unusual but really original film. It makes you ponder its legitimacy but that’s also the point. Welles was a clever guy and himself a true magician of his preferred art form. In the end, does the legitimacy even matter, as long as you were entertained?

I guess that’s a question for modern times, as so many people take everything at face value, verbatim, with no real desire to look for the actual truth. But then again, Welles was always well ahead of his time. 

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other pictures.

Film Review: The Visitor (1979)

Also known as: Stridulum (original Italian title) 
Release Date: March 22nd, 1979 (Italy)
Directed by: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Written by: Giulio Paradisi, Ovidio G. Assonitis, Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi
Music by: Franco Micalizzi
Cast: Joanne Nail, Paige Conner, John Huston, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah, Neal Boortz, Steve Somers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (cameo, uncredited), Franco Nero (uncredited)

Brouwersgracht Investments, Film Ventures International, Swan American Film, 108 Minutes, 90 Minutes (edited version)

Review:

“Now listen to me Katy isn’t there something you want to tell me?” – Det. Jake Durham, “Yeah. Go fuck yourself!” – Katy Collins

I came across the trailer for this movie randomly on YouTube while looking for another film. The trailer grabbed me, however, and I was intrigued by it, even if the concept felt derivative. It was just so strange looking with insane visuals and it was an Italian horror picture that was shot and takes place in Atlanta, which is somewhat bizarre.

Also, this has one hell of a cast!

While some reviews I read said that this great cast was wasted in a shit picture, I couldn’t disagree with that more. But I guess, Italian horror movies only work for a special breed of American film aficionados, myself being one of them.

This doesn’t really have that ’70s giallo-styled color palate but it is still a vivid and vibrant looking picture in its own way. It looks and feels more American than a typical Italian horror production but that genuine Italian touch still exists in nearly every frame. It’s kind of hard to explain but giallo fans will know what I mean if they watch this.

For an Italian picture, the production is also really impressive, as this has a higher quality standard than what’s typical of similar films. The special effects are sometimes a bit hokey but it all works remarkably well and the film also doesn’t try to overdo it and keeps things fairly grounded, which doesn’t expose the production’s limitations.

Sure, some of the rooftop alien scenes are weird and total ’70s Euro horror cheese but then nearly everything else comes off looking like a low budget but well-produced American horror flick.

I thought that every actor in this brought their A-game and took this movie seriously enough to give it some actual gravitas and authenticity. Even the little girl, who had a lot on her shoulders in this film, did a fantastic job at being a sadistic, evil superchild.

This is just a damn cool movie that should definitely be on more people’s radar. Those who already love Italian horror of this era, should most likely love the hell out of this.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s horror movies about creepy kids with crazy powers.

Film Review: The French Connection (1971)

Also known as: Doyle, Popeye (fake working titles)
Release Date: October 7th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Ernest Tidyman
Based on: The French Connection by Robin Moore
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi

Schine-Moore Productions, Philip D’Antoni Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“All right, Popeye’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!” – Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle

The French Connection was a surprise hit in 1971 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. Do I think that it was that good? Not really, but I still like the movie quite a bit.

It’s probably most famous for having one of the greatest chase scenes of all-time and I’ll certainly give it that. Watching it now, the iconic chase was better than anything you might see in modern films and frankly, I’d probably still consider it one of the best. Bullitt still takes the cake for me, though.

The reason why that sequence is so great is the energy and the realism of it. It was crafted in a time when everything on the screen had to be real. From chasing the bad guy on foot, to racing in a car to catch him after his escape via subway to finally putting a bullet in the villain’s back, it’s an intense masterpiece. Plus, the road they filmed the car scenes on wasn’t officially cleared and some of the close calls caught on film were very real. You’d never get away with that today.

It’s also hard not to love Gene Hackman in this. It’s essentially the most Gene Hackman movie of all-time, as he just controls every scene and showcases why he is simply a f’n legend. I also love the hell out of Roy Scheider in this but when don’t I? Both these men are pretty incredible and they certainly put everything they had into these roles.

The film was directed by William Friedkin, who probably deserves some notoriety for that, as over time, he’s most thought of as the director of The Exorcist. Additionally, Friedkin directed Sorcerer, which also features Roy Scheider and is grossly underappreciated these days.

All in all, this was a realistic, gritty crime thriller that was based on a true story and didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of its subject matter. It’s well acted, well directed, has big, iconic moments that are timeless and it still packs a wallop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’70s crime pictures.

Film Review: Animal House (1978)

Also known as: Laser Orgy Girls (original script title)
Release Date: July 27th, 1978 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Donald Sutherland, Peter Riegert, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, Douglas Kenney, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, Sarah Holcomb

Stage III Productions, Oregon Film Factory, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.” – Bluto

Animal House is a cult comedy that came out before I was born but was beloved by the generation slightly ahead of mine. I grew up hearing older people quote the movie constantly but I never actually saw it until the ’90s in my teen years. It’s also been that long since I’ve seen it, as although I love John Belushi, the film never hit the mark for me.

I feel like I did enjoy it more now, though, but that’s probably also because comedy is dead in the 2020s and everything in this film would be considered grossly offensive by modern snowflakes and “cancel everything” dweebs. Simply watching this felt like an act of defiance against Generation Bitch Made and everything their weak knees wobbly stand for.

Still, I can’t consider this a great movie, even if it spoke to an entire generation of slackers. However, it was never intended to be a great movie. This was made to entertain horny young folks that toked grass and drank a lot of beer. It also helped pave the way for a slew of mindless, funny films that did the same thing. Escapism is important to the human brain and National Lampoon’s Animal House provides solid escapism from your problems and your world for 109 minutes.

The film is also full of a lot of actors that would go on to have long careers, many of whom moved on to bigger and better things.

In the end, Animal House is goofy, obnoxious and reminds me of simpler times when people were still allowed to laugh and enjoy life.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as the films of Ivan Reitman.

Film Review: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

Also known as: The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (US poster title), The Last Warning (UK alternative title)
Release Date: July 11th, 1974 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Written by: Don Houghton
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, John Forbes-Robertson

Shaw Brothers, Hammer Films, 89 Minutes, 75 Minutes (American edit)

Review:

“I need your mortal coil. I need the form of your miserable carcass. I need your vile image. I need to walk this Earth again, free from these walls, free from this mausoleum. I will return to your temple, in your image Kah. I will recall the Seven Golden Vampires, as my own host. Tools of my vengeance on mankind. I will take on your appearance, your image.” – Dracula

I saw this years ago and while I mostly liked it, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, revisiting it now.

This film was a co-production between the UK’s Hammer Films, known for their iconic gothic horror pictures, and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio, the masters of classic kung fu flicks.

Somehow, this unusual movie came together like a perfect marriage between the two studios’ very different styles and the end result was something really entertaining, especially for fans of both companies.

I’m not surprised that Christopher Lee didn’t come back to play Dracula once again but I still wish he had, as it would’ve added something extra to the movie. But at least Peter Cushing returned to play another version of the Van Helsing character. I do like the actor that did play the traditional Dracula, however, even if the role was rather limited.

That intro between Dracula and Kah, the Chinese baddie that became his mortal host, was really damn enjoyable: the perfect kind of old school cheese.

Once the story gets to China, it’s really energetic and cool. I love the tone of the film, the martial arts action and the ideas explored in this were really neat and fresh.

I especially love how vivid and almost giallo-esque some of the lighting was in the more surreal horror scenes. However, at times, the movie also looks like what one would expect from a traditional Shaw Brothers kung fu movie.

There’s just a lot of awesome stuff in this film and if you just sit back and enjoy the show, it’s a lot of fun and a great attempt at trying to bring two very different things together in a well-crafted package.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Dracula films, as well as other Shaw Brothers kung fu pictures.

Film Review: The Sentinel (1977)

Also known as: Hexensabbat (Germany), De Watcher (Netherlands)
Release Date: January 7th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Jeffrey Konvitz, Michael Winner
Based on: The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Deborah Raffin, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Hank Garrett, Nana Visitor (as Nana Tucker), Tom Berenger, William Hickey, Jeff Goldblum

Jeffrey Konvitz Productions, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It’s all right. Listen, listen. I know everything now. The Latin you saw in that book was an ancient warning from the angel Gabriel to the angel Uriel.” – Michael Lerman

The Sentinel came out in a decade that was packed full of religious themed horror movies after the successes that were 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1973’s The Exorcist. So it’s easy to see why it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. However, in my opinion, it is one of the better ones out there.

The film also has a really great cast, even if most of the parts are fairly small, except for the two leads: Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon. Sprinkled throughout though are Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D’Angelo, Nana Visitor (of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Tom Berenger, William Hickey and Jeff Goldblum. Needless to say, there’s a lot of great talent here and the film truly benefits from it, as just about every scene includes someone of note and none of them are simply dialing in their performance.

The plot revolves around a young woman with a pretty screwed up past, wanting to live on her own for awhile. She moves into an old building near the water in New York City. However, the attic apartment has an old blind priest that just sits in the window 24/7. The place is also full of bizarre residents and as the film rolls on, we come to learn that these people are ghosts. We also learn that the building is a gateway to Hell and the old priest sits there to keep the evil from escaping the walls of the house.

The story almost feels like it’s ripped from a ’70s Italian demon movie. But also like Italian demon movies, this is eerie as hell and really effective. It’s just creepy as shit in the greatest way possible.

I like how the story evolves and brings in the detectives played by Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken. I like both of those actors tremendously and they were great together in this. In fact, I kind of wished they had their own film as two NYC detectives in the gritty ’70s.

The real scene stealer for me was Chris Sarandon. I’ve loved the guy since I first saw him in Fright Night when I was a little kid. He’s just solid in this and I like what they do with his character over the progression of the story.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised by this movie. I’ve known about it for years but never got around to seeing it. Had I known how many great actors were in this, I probably would’ve watched it years earlier.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other religious horror of the ’70s.