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: I, Monster (1971)

Release Date: November 1st, 1971 (Sweden)
Directed by: Stephen Weeks
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Carl Davis
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall, George Merritt, Kenneth J. Warren, Susan Jameson

Amicus Productions, British Lion Film Corporation, 75 Minutes, 81 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The face of evil is ugly to look upon. And as the pleasures increase, the face becomes uglier.” – Dr. Charles Marlowe

Being that I like Jekyll & Hyde stories, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, I definitely thought I’d love the hell out of this film. Sadly, it was a bit underwhelming and kind of slow for only being a seventy-five minute movie.

Still, I do like the performances of horror icons Lee and Cushing and they really committed to the roles, as they always do.

Something about this production just seemed off and like it was all sloppily slapped together with the studio and director assuming it’d all just work because it had two great stars and utilized beloved source material.

This isn’t terrible but it’s a heck of a lost worse than it should have been.

I guess, on paper, I can see why they seemed to just dial it in from a production standpoint but the great Hammer films with Lee and Cushing still had to be solid from top-to-bottom at every level of the production.

Sure, these movies tend to look and feel cheap but even then, you still get so wrapped up in the magic that you don’t care and you believe what you see on the screen. This picture just lacked that magic.

I’m not sure why but it’s devoid of energy outside of a few good moments where Lee is experimenting on himself or raging as the movie’s monster.

I wouldn’t call this a waste of time, though. It’s still got moments to enjoy if you’re a fan of the two leads but they’ve been a part of much better productions and there are certainly better Jekyll & Hyde adaptations out there.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film adaptations, as well as other movies starring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Film Review: THX 1138 – Director’s Cut (1971)

Also known as: THX-1138 (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 11th, 1971
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Walter Murch
Based on: Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB by George Lucas
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Sid Haig

American Zoetrope, Warner Bros., 86 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 81 Minutes (1971 Studio Theatrical Cut)

Review:

“Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.” – OMM

I had to review the Director’s Cut edition of THX 1138, which is unfortunately the only version the world has access to anymore. It’s similar to the original Star Wars trilogy after George Lucas altered those films. Frankly, I’d rather see and review this film in its original form but I don’t have this on a VHS tape from the ’80s or a working VCR.

For the most part, this film isn’t altered too greatly and the bits that have been updated are obvious due to them employing modern CGI, which sticks out like a sore thumb. But I can’t really examine the skill of George Lucas’ special effects prowess because those things have been wiped clean and replaced with modern tweaks.

Anyway, this is obviously inspired by some of the most famous dystopian novels and motion picture adaptations. However, even if it dips into Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, it still has it’s own identity and look. Frankly, despite heavy narrative similarities to what it was inspired by, this is still a unique and really cool film.

Being George Lucas’ first feature length movie, it’s damn impressive. This is also why I’d rather see it in its original form and not altered for modern eyes.

The film also benefits from the performances by its core cast members. While Robert Duvall is stellar in this, he’s backed up by Maggie McOmie’s memorable performance, as well as the always enjoyable Donald Pleasence.

Additionally, it’s impressive how much Lucas was able to achieve with so little. The sets are very minimalistic but nothing about this picture feels cheap. The world feels real, authentic and lived in, even with its generic, sterile, hospital hallways looking appearance.

I like this motion picture quite a bit and I always have. Seeing it in HD is pretty glorious but I still wish I had the ability to see it as it was original seen.

Lastly, this film features one of the coolest cars in motion picture history, which is featured in the big chase scene at the film’s climax.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other dystopian science fiction films of the late ’60s through the ’80s.

Film Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Release Date: October 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I walked the streets, brooding on the bitter irony that all I wanted to do for humanity, for life, would be cheated by death… unless I could cheat death.” – Dr. Jekyll

This is strangely a Hammer horror film that I hadn’t seen. It’s always cool seeing one of these for the first time because it’s like looking at it with fresh eyes without nostalgia grabbing hold and taking you back to a magical time from your youth.

That being said, I quite enjoyed this and the gender bending twist to this classic story was a fun, interesting take.

The plot sees the legendary character of Dr. Jekyll develop and test out his own serum. However, in this version, he doesn’t turn into Mr. Hyde, he turns into a hot chick.

With that, his female persona uses her beauty and her gender to trap women in her web before horrifically murdering them Jack The Ripper style. In fact, this was most definitely inspired by the Jack The Ripper killings, as much as it was inspired by the famous Robert Louis Stevenson horror story about the duality of man and science run amok.

I love Ralph Bates, especially in his Hammer movie roles. I really liked Martine Beswick, as well though, as she plays the murderous female version of the character.

Additionally, whoever cast this film did a stupendous job in finding two leads with a very similar look despite their different genders.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde may not be the best version of the Stevenson tale but it’s certainly a really cool take on it, made by a solid classic horror director and two leads that committed to their parts and ultimately gave us cinematic magic.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the early ’70s that explore sexual themes.

Film Review: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Release Date: December 19th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Michael Bates, Warren Clark, Clive Francis, Michael Gover, James Marcus, Aubrey Morris, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Philip Stone, Madge Ryan, Anthony Sharp, Michael Tarn, David Prowse, Steven Berkoff

Polaris Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.” – Alex

As of this review, Stanley Kubrick is the one director that I have awarded four 10 out of 10 ratings to. He is my favorite director of all-time, as he’s just able to captivate me like no one else. Granted, Orson Welles, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa are pretty damn close too and I often times debate which director truly takes the cake but I always come back to Kubrick. But hey, at least I know who’s on my Mount Rushmore of film directors.

Similar to my mental debate over directors, I often times ponder which of Kubrick’s films between this one, 2001 and The Shining are my favorite. The answer is usually the most recent one that I’ve watched but it seems like A Clockwork Orange tends to rise to the top more often than the other two.

While all three films are masterpieces, as is Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, this one seems to resonate with me the most.

This may be the most perfectly cast film from top-to-bottom, as there isn’t a single person, regardless of the size of their role, that hinders this film in any way. Additionally, every actor feels exactly as they should and despite recognizing many faces, you still get lost in the film and aren’t necessarily distracted by who’s in it.

As fantastical as this film’s world may seem, you are still drawn into it’s gritty, harsh realness while also admiring its surreal and sometimes opulent environment. It’s a film with a lot of visual and narrative contrast but in both regards these things feel like perfect marriages and perfectly balanced.

Beyond that, this is, by far, one of the most mesmerizing and impressive films ever shot. Kubrick uses a lot of his stylistic tropes to great effect. 

Furthermore, out of all the novels and stories that Kubrick has adapted, this one is the closest to its source material. In fact, nothing has really changed and there are just a few things omitted, probably due to running time and also because Kubrick was given the American version of the novel, which, at the time, was missing the book’s epilogue.

Comparing the book to the movie, I like both just about equally. However, for the film, I feel that the ending is perfect and that the epilogue might have taken some of the cinematic magic away, as it would have made the film’s climax less open for interpretation. For fans of this picture, I would most definitely suggest that you read the original Anthony Burgess novel if you haven’t already.

A Clockwork Orange is a terrifying, emotional and amusing film. It’s also perfect, as far as I’m concerned. They don’t make movies like this anymore and they probably never will with how the film industry has evolved, especially as of late.

Stanley Kubrick was a fucking legend. This is just one of several motion pictures that cements that.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Stanley Kubrick’s other films and other great movies that feature a sort of dystopian, bleak future.

Film Review: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Release Date: October 14th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Written by: Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Music by: Tristram Cary
Cast: Valerie Leon, Andrew Keir, Mark Edwards, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, Aubrey Morris

EMI Films, Hammer Films, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“The meek shall not inherit the earth. They can’t be trusted with it.” – Corbeck

Out of the four Mummy movies made by Hammer Films, this one is the most original and least derivative of the two Mummy sequels before it.

While this was an adaptation of The Jewel of Seven Stars, a classic Bram Stoker novel, it was set in contemporary times, giving it a fresh, modern feel. Well, at least in 1971.

This was also probably done to make the film’s production cheaper and I’m sure that it succeeded, as Hammer would follow this up by making two modern Dracula films, as well as a few other flicks set in the 1970s.

Additionally, it differs from the other three films in that the mummy in this picture is a woman. A very, very beautiful and alluring woman, mind you. Valerie Leon, in fact, and if you’ve never seen her in Zeta One, you haven’t truly lived.

Anyway, I like this film simply because it isn’t just a copy of a copy of a copy. It tried something new and I feel like it succeeded in spite of its limitations and faults.

It’s definitely entertaining if you’re a fan of classic Hammer horror and beautiful babes. 

I also dig that they adapted a Bram Stoker story that wasn’t Dracula, which is really the only book that Stoker is known for by modern audiences. While The Jewel of Seven Stars isn’t as iconic as Dracula, it’s still a cool story and it helped pave the way for mummy horror before feature length movies were even made.

The acting is pretty average and I’d say it’s what you would expect from a Hammer picture. This one doesn’t have any of the iconic Hammer actors in it but the cast still holds their own.

I thought that this did pretty well with the flashback sequences, tying our female lead back to her previous life as an Egyptian queen. Also, the look of Egypt in this film was otherworldly and kind of cool. I know that the look of outdoor Egypt in this was a byproduct of a low budget but the director made the most out of it and I thought the look worked quite well.

In the end, the Hammer Mummy movies aren’t as beloved as the Dracula and Frankenstein ones but they’re still a lot of fun and still feel like genuine, stylish Hammer pictures.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

Film Review: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Also known as: Dr. Phibes (promotional title), The Curse of Dr. Phibes (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: May 18th, 1971
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: William Goldstein, James Whiton, Robert Fuest
Music by: Basil Kirchin
Cast: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North, Hugh Griffith, Caroline Munro

American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.” – Waverley

Being that I haven’t seen either Dr. Phibes movie in at least a dozen years, I forgot how funny this film is. It’s not overly comedic, “ha ha” funny, it’s just very cheeky and dry in a uniquely British way.

The film stars the legendary Vincent Price but instead of having him star alongside another horror legend or B-movie leading man, he actually stars alongside the great Joseph Cotton, who is a legend in his own way, especially due to his stupendous work with one of the greatest cinematic visionaries that ever lived, Orson Welles.

The film is also filled with some recognizable British character actors of the time but it is also worth mentioning that the mesmerizing and perfect Caroline Munro is in this. However, she plays Phibes’ deceased wife and is only really seen in photographs and as a corpse.

Phibes also has a female assistant, played by Virginia North, and she is pretty damn good in this up to her terrible, painful end.

The plot is about a madman who has been disfigured by acid. Beyond that, he wants revenge against the nine men he deems responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table. In order to exact revenge, Phibes murders the men in very elaborate ways that are inspired by The Ten Plagues of Egypt. Watching each of these play out is really cool.

The film itself is also visually stunning, as it employs an art deco style with vibrant colors that almost resemble an Italian giallo film. It’s an opulent and vivid looking picture and mixing that with the elaborate murders makes these come across as more high brow and artistic that Price’s typical movies made by American International.

On top of that, Price is superb in this film and it is one of his best and most iconic performances.

Ultimately, this is a damn fine horror picture for its day. It’s creative, alluring and strangely enchanting in spite of its dark subject matter.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’60s and ’70s Vincent Price movies.

Film Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Release Date: September 4th, 1971 (Turin premiere)
Directed by: Paolo Cavara
Written by: Marcello Danon, Lucile Laks
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet, Rossella Falk, Silvano Tranquilli, Barbara Bach

Da Ma Produzione, Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.), 89 Minutes, 98 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

Paolo Cavara was better known for making mondo films. However, he also made two giallo pictures, this being one of them.

Since I had never seen this but heard good things, I figured I’d check it out. It also stars a young Giancarlo Giannini, as well as the immensely beautiful ladies, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach.

Like many giallo pictures, this one plays like a proto-slasher movie. And while it is very artistic and vivid, as giallos go, it doesn’t look as overly stylized as the works of Argento or the two Bavas. Still, it is a beautiful looking picture, a product of its unique time and country of origin, but it feels a bit more grounded in a gritty reality.

The method of the killer in this movie is unique and kind of cool, as he kills his victims in the way that a spider wasp kills a tarantula: paralyzing them with the sting of a needle and then slicing open their stomachs as they are conscious and can feel the agonizing pain without the ability to fight back or scream.

Giannini plays the detective trying to stop the killer but in doing so, finds himself and his girlfriend as targets of the deranged, mysterious killer.

While I can’t put this on the same level as the best giallos to come out of Italy, it is still memorable because of its killer’s methods, as well as the superb cast.

This also came out just as the genre was finding its style and getting its stride. So it might not feel as refined, beautiful and as opulent as later films in the genre but it did help pave the way for them.

Overall, this was pretty enthralling from the perspective of one who generally likes these sort of films. I can’t necessarily call Cavara a giallo maestro just based off of this one film but it did make me want to check out his other giallo picture: Plot of Fear a.k.a. Bloody Peanuts.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’70s Italian giallo pictures.

Film Review: Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

Also known as: Angel Warriors 2 (Australia)
Release Date: August 11th, 1971 (Traverse City, Michigan)
Directed by: Michel Levesque
Written by: Michel Levesque, David M. Kaufman
Music by: Don Gere
Cast: Stephen Oliver, D.J. Anderson, Deuce Barry

South Street Films, 85 Minutes

Review:

On paper, this film seemed like an incredible idea! Especially for something coming out at the height of exploitation film that mashes up the counter culture biker picture with B-movie horror.

What we got instead was a poorly made, shittily crafted flick that barely has any werewolf stuff in it and mostly just focuses on bikers being boring assholes.

Now the first act of the picture is kind of awesome. It sees this biker gang show up at a cemetery with a monastery that is full of satanic cultists. These cultists feed the bikers bread and wine that knocks them out. Then they start a satanic ritual with one of the biker dude’s ladies. There’s a bunch of black magic, chanting and a naked chick dancing with snakes next to a large flame pit. Then you get to see the bikers wake up, interrupt the ritual and beat up evil monks.

Then almost nothing happens for the rest of the movie except for a semi-violent werewolf kill which happens in silhouette and just shows a bloodied head with a fucked up eyeball. And then we get the really short finale, which sees one of the bikers trying to get away from the other bikers after he transforms into a werewolf.

The werewolf costume is pretty crappy but it works for me, as this is a no budget movie shot in just 16 days, guerrilla style and probably without permits.

In the end, this is a missed opportunity and someone should make a better version of this concept. If a better version exists, I’d like to know about it. If you do, let me know.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other biker movies of the era, as well as Psychomania.

Film Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Also known as: Secret of the Planet of the Apes (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Peter Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, M. Emmet Walsh, Norman Burton, Charlton Heston (archive footage)

Twentieth Century Fox, APJAC Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“They became alert to the concept of slavery. And, as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said ‘No.’ So that’s how it all started.” – Cornelius

I guess I remembered the beginning of this film wrong, as I said in my review of the previous one that the ending kind of didn’t leave it open for the films after it. However, this one starts off in what was then modern times. From memory, I thought that the apes in the picture went back in time at some point midway through the story but they actually start off in 1970s America.

Anyway, it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen this one and memories can do weird things, especially when one has spent a lot of the time between the memory and now, experimenting with several vices. Don’t worry, I barely party anymore because getting old makes you more chill and because amateurs at the local bars and opium dens is a deterrent.

I really dug the hell out of this film though and revisiting it was certainly a worthwhile and entertaining experience. As of now, this is my favorite film of the lot. While I see the first chapter as a better motion picture, overall, I found this one to be more entertaining and more effective at making its point, using the bigotry between apes and humans as a metaphor for xenophobia.

I was also really glad to see Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter move into the main focus of the story, as their arrival on Earth sets in motion a hope for unity but ultimately leads to fear overcoming the masses and eventual tragedy.

Due to the time travel element, this sets the stage for its sequels and it also makes the whole series a time loop. Honestly, after this sets in motion the events that cause the creation of the ape world from the first film, you can watch the five movies in a constant loop or start with whichever chapter you want and then loop back around to it. It’s a pretty unique thing and it’s one of the many factors that make the original Planet of the Apes franchise really damn cool.

The acting in this is also really good and it’s certainly a step up from the second, fairly mundane movie. I’d say the acting is on the same level as the original but with McDowall and Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.