TV Review: Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)

Original Run: September 19th, 1975 – October 25th, 1979
Created by: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Directed by: John Howard Davies, Bob Spiers
Written by: John Cleese, Connie Booth
Music by: Dennis Wilson
Cast: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth, Ballard Berkeley, Brian Hall, Renee Roberts, Gilly Flower

BBC, 12 Episodes, 30-35 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Fawlty Towers really is one of the all-time greatest British sitcoms. So much so, I’d hear people talk about it in the States for years until I finally saw it around the year 2000 or so, in my early twenties.

Being that I was already a big John Cleese fan, I wanted to give it a watch because of him and because his only other early work that I’d seen had been the Monty Python stuff. And while I’m not into that stuff like a lot of people slightly older than me, I always had a love for Cleese along with Eric Idle.

In my opinion, this is the best John Cleese has ever been in a main role. Being that he wrote the show alongside his then wife, Connie Booth, it was very obviously tailor made for him, accenting his strengths while allowing no faults to show. Granted, I can’t think of a time where Cleese ever showed his faults but maybe I’m a bit biased.

The rest of the cast is enjoyable, as well, though. Even the regular secondary characters in this are pretty perfect and prove with every episode that they can hang with the guy that would become a comedy legend.

Sadly, Cleese and Booth were divorced before the second season was filmed but whatever issues may have arisen in their personal lives, it didn’t effect the quality of the show.

However, it’s also probably why there weren’t more than two seasons, which is still immensely disappointing, as twelve half hour episodes just aren’t enough. But I guess quitting while you’re ahead doesn’t allow for a drop off in quality.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Release Date: December 11th, 1975 (London premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray
Music by: Leonard Rosenman, Ralph Ferraro (uncredited)
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Gay Hamilton, Steven Berkoff, Andre Morell, Anthony Sharp, Philip Stone, Pat Roach

Peregrine, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 185 Minutes

Review:

“Well then, look you now… from this moment, I will submit to no further chastisement from you. I will kill you, if you lay hands on me ever again! Is that entirely clear to you, sir?” – Lord Bullingdon

This is the only Stanley Kubrick film I had never seen, apart from his early documentary work. I always wanted to see this but I was intimidated by its length and usually, once I start thinking about Kubrick, I tend to go back to watching one of my three favorite films by him: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. I often times mix in Dr. Strangelove and Eyes Wide Shut, as well.

I thought that I needed to see this, greatly, and that not having seen it already was a bit of a crime against myself, as I consider Kubrick to be one of the three men in my personal Holy Trinity of Directors. I do think I need to expand that to a Mount Rushmore of Directors, though, as there are really four at the highest level of craftsmanship that I always go back to, again and again. However, this isn’t about that.

This is a long, epic film but man, it’s pretty exceptional.

While I found it slow in parts and there were chapters in the story that weren’t as interesting as the best bits, I really enjoyed this and thought that if it were ever remade, it should definitely be expanded into a limited television series, as there’s just so much story. I have never read the book, though, so I’m not sure how much of it this film actually covered.

Still, this shows the entirety of a man’s adult life where he initially starts out as pretty likable but then slowly dissolves into a real piece of shit. The picture does a great job of showing you all the major events and turning points in his life, however, and it builds towards something quite incredible.

As should be expected, the cinematography is magnificent, as is the acting and the use of music.

In regards to the film’s score, Kubrick went a similar route to what he did with A Clockwork Orange in that he uses many classical masterpieces but often times uses distorted versions of them, which give off their own unique feel that does more for the tone of specific scenes than the visuals and the acting. If you’ve never seen this but are familiar with A Clockwork Orange, you probably know what I’m talking about. However, his use of altered classical works is more limited here and less noticeable, initially.

There is one character in this that you do grow to care about, as Barry Lyndon devolves into a pure prick, and that’s his stepson. Their hatred for each other climaxes in an old fashioned duel. It’s a fucking tragic scene where you can’t guess what’s going to happen and every single frame of film adds to the building tension in a way that I haven’t felt in a film in a really long time. It’s actually a breathtaking sequence that’s impossible to look away from.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore and honestly, it truly makes me appreciate this near masterpiece that much more.

Barry Lyndon is as great as I had always hoped it would be.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stanley Kubrick films, as well as other epic, fictional biographical movies.

Documentary Review: Grey Gardens (1975)

Release Date: September 27th, 1975 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Portrait Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman… S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There’s nothing worse, I’m telling you. They don’t weaken, no matter what.” – Little Edie

Grey Gardens is very much a product of its time but it was a pretty highly regarded documentary for its day.

While I’ve known about it for years, I hadn’t watched it till now, as I figured it’d be a really depressing look into the lives of two women who went from the height of American society to living pretty much in squalor in their decrepit Long Island mansion, reflecting on their past days of glory.

The film, at its core, is an interesting character study into these two real women. There isn’t really a structure to the film and the directors just let the cameras roll, filming their day-to-day life like a reality television show. Although, more like the early days of reality television, before producers tried to manipulate their subjects into manufactured hostility to grab ratings.

That being said, this is still a sad picture but at the same time, the two women, even in their situation, are endearing and quite likable. But this also shows their naivety about the world that they live in. They’re the products of high society, no longer a part of it and they just don’t seem to have the same instincts as regular people in similar impoverished situations.

We also discover their strange but kind of innocent philosophies about life, love and family.

My only real complaint about the film is that it’s really slow. However, this complaint probably exists because I saw it nearly half a century after it was made and documentary filmmaking has evolved, greatly.

Regardless of that, it’s still interesting, stepping into these two women’s world for an hour and a half.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and the film of the same name that is based on the women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

Film Review: Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Also known as: Dog Day (worldwide English informal short title)
Release Date: September 19th, 1975 (Spain – San Sebastian Film Festival)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson, Thomas Moore
Based on: The Boys In the Bank by P. F. Kluge
Cast: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Lance Henriksen, Chris Sarandon, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar, Susan Peretz, Carol Kane, Dominic Chianese

Artists Entertainment Complex, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes, 131 Minutes (1975 cut)

Review:

“Look, Mom, I’m a fuck-up and I’m an outcast and that’s it. You come near me, you’re gonna get it – you’re gonna get fucked over and fucked out!” – Sonny

I’ve probably seen this movie a half dozen times but it’s been a few decades. I always saw this on cable, so it was always the “safe for TV” version and having now watched this again, I realized that I had never seen the beginning of the film, as I never knew there was initially a third bank robber that bolted in the opening sequence of the movie.

It was really great seeing this in full and the way it was meant to be seen without cable television censors getting in the way of the art. Being that this is a Sidney Lumet film, it deserves to be seen as the director intended, as he was a true motion picture maestro.

Seeing this now also made me appreciate how good John Cazale was and it makes me wonder how great his career could have been had cancer not taken his life in 1978. In fact, this was the last film of his that he lived to see released theatrically. But it’s crazy to think about what iconic roles after his death he may have had a shot at playing or what mediocre movies he could’ve elevated had he been cast in place of others.

Additionally, this shows how incredible Al Pacino was in an era where he was still growing as an actor but already displayed the chops that would earn him legendary status.

The rest of the cast is pretty damn perfect too from the cop to the federal agents to the bank teller with the least amount of lines. Lumet did a spectacular job in getting the most out of his cast: utilizing their strengths and personalities to maximum effect.

The majority of the film takes place in one location but this moves at such a brisk pace that it doesn’t bog things down, which can happen fairly easy in pictures without the talent that this one had.

Plus, the cinematography was solid, the musical score was perfect and the film just had the right sort of tone. It felt like real, gritty, ’70s New York City without coming off as edgy or dark like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Granted, this was a film that had its fair share of violence and perilous, unfortunate situations but even knowing the outcome could never be good for the main characters, you still didn’t give up hope or fall into a sense of despair.

Dog Day Afternoon is a motion picture that deserves its status as one of the best films of its decade. It also boasts some of the best performances by just about all the key actors involved.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other crime films of the 1970s, especially those starring Al Pacino.

Film Review: The White, The Yellow, and The Black (1975)

Also known as: Il bianco il giallo il nero (original Italian title), Samurai (Canada), Ring Around the Horse’s Tail (US dubbed version), Shoot First… Ask Questions Later (US alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Amendola & Corbucci, Santiago Moncada, Renee Asseo, Antonio Troisio, Marcello Coscia, Sergio Spina
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Giuliano Gemma, Tomas Milian, Eli Wallach

Filmel, Mundial Film, Tritone Cinematografica, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[about to be hanged by a gang] I’ll never die without my boots on, and a star on my chest.” – Sheriff Edward Gideon

I’ve seen and reviewed about a half dozen Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns in recent years. I didn’t know about this one, however, until I stumbled across it while looking for something else. But I’m glad I did, even if it’s one of Corbucci’s weaker westerns.

Still, it’s a well cast film with three cool characters that had nice chemistry and provided solid performances that required dramatic and comedic acting with a little pinch of badassness sprinkled in.

People today would probably find the fact that Italian actor Tomas Milian plays a samurai in the Old West to be “problematic” and while the character is written mostly for laughs by tapping into cultural stereotypes, Milian still gives his character a certain panache and coolness when push comes to shove.

Spaghetti western legends Eli Wallach and Giuliano Gemma also add some fun to the proceedings, with Wallach playing a Sheriff and Gemma playing a typical western cowboy.

The plot sees this unlikely trio come together to track down a stolen Japanese horse that was intended to be a gift for the US government. The three men end up embroiled in a rivalry with a band of desperadoes that are made up of former Confederate soldiers.

Side note: this film was actually made as a loose parody of the Charles Bronson starring Red Sun. Milian’s samurai character would also reappear in the film Crime at the Chinese Restaurant in 1981, directed by Sergio’s younger brother, Bruno Corbucci.

Out of the Corbucci westerns I’ve seen, this one is, unfortunately, the weakest. But I can’t fault the director for trying to do something different for his last picture in the genre. While the characters are amusing and work fairly well together, the movie does kind of miss its mark and pales in comparison to Django, The Great Silence, Compañeros and The Mercenary. I’d also rank it behind Navajo Joe, which wasn’t anywhere near as goofy and borderline slapstick-y despite having more humorous bits than Corbucci’s other spaghetti westerns.

This also lacks the gravitas of those earlier films. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se, but Corbucci sort of had a particular style with his westerns and this plays more like a generic western comedy than the great action flicks one could expect from Corbucci.

Overall, I like the casting and I enjoyed their characters but apart from that, this is almost forgettable and probably only stayed afloat in a sea of spaghetti flicks due to who made it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.

Film Review: Deep Red (1975)

Also known as: Profondo Rosso (original Italian title), Profoundly Red (European English title), Dripping Deep Red (US pre-release title), The Deep Red Hatchet Murders (US DVD box title), The Hatchet Murders (US censored version)
Release Date: March 7th, 1975 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
Music by: Goblin, Giorgio Gaslini
Cast: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Macha Meril, Eros Pagni, Giuliana Calandra

Rizzoli Film, Seda Spettacoli, 127 Minutes (original), 101 Minutes (R rated cut), 105 Minutes (export cut)

Review:

“It seems there are just some things you can’t do seriously with liberated women.” – Marcus Daly

This was the first giallo film that Dario Argento directed after what’s unofficially referred to as his “animal trilogy”, which featured the films The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971). This also came after Argento took a break from the giallo style with 1973’s The Five Days, which was a dramedy about the Italian Revolution.

Like most of Argento’s giallos, this film was a proto-slasher movie that employed some pretty good, artsy gore. You know, the type that isn’t just gore for the sake of gore but is instead creative, full of vivid color, especially in regards to blood and other bodily fluids, and done so masterfully with practical, real effects that you kind of just stare in awe of it.

The story is about a killer that seemingly kills at random and that you are only given small clues about over the course of the film. Eventually, the crime is solved but there are great film-noir-esque twists throughout the picture and the most haunting thing about this movie isn’t the killer but it’s the picture’s atmosphere.

I’ve often mentioned about how film-noir influenced giallo and how giallo influenced slasher films. This is a movie that, honestly, makes one of the best supporting arguments for my theory. In a lot of ways, it pulls from the best bits of Argento’s previous giallos but it also reminded me a lot of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, which might be the best example of giallo bridging the bizarre gap between classic noir and slashers.

I thought that some bits of the movie were bonkers and insane, like the bit with the robot doll. But stuff like that is so surreal, cool and terrifying in its own way that it actually makes the picture work better in how it overwhelms you with weird, creepy shit.

Certain things don’t have to make sense and Deep Red is an example of how bizarre, nonsensical moments can actually throw your scent off just to hit you with something else unexpected and jarring. This was something that Argento would actually get even better at, as can be seen in films like SuspiriaInferno and Phenomena.

Deep Red is not Argento’s best picture but it is well constructed, visually rich and it delivers the type of experience a giallo fan should greatly enjoy.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Dario Argento giallo films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Wolf Guy (1975)

Also known as: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko, lit. Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (Japan)
Release Date: April 5th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Written by: Fumio Konami
Based on: Wolf Guy by Kazumasa Hirai
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kyosuke Machida

Toei, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There is a nastier pathogen than syphilis. It’s the one they call hatred of humans. I had clearly caught that infection from Miki.” – Akira Inugami

Man, this is a bizarre movie. But it’s also a horror Yakuza movie from Toei Studios in the 1970s. They spent a lot of time making tokusatsu television and Sonny Chiba action movies though, so this was a weird hybrid of all the things they were good at back in the mid-’70s.

Chiba is essentially a werewolf. However, we never see him actually turn into a werewolf, there is just dialogue about how he’s channeling his wolf power and his animal instincts. There is also some sort of phantom ghost tiger thing that keeps attacking people and ripping them to shreds.

The films is also full of drugs, whores, gangsters, syphilis and really weird sexual encounters.

At one point, Wolf Guy Chiba meets his mother, who is also his wife and he suckles her breasts. Yeah, it’s fucking weird as shit but hey, this is Japanese cinema where weird shit is allowed to fly, nothing has to make much logical sense and no one really seems to care as long as something really cool happens every five to ten minutes.

If I’m being honest though, I have no idea what the hell I watched. But I did mostly like it. I love Chiba, I love Toei and bizarreness is right up my alley. And luckily, this wasn’t so bizarre that it was like some Takashi Miike shitshow. He’s literally made shitshows, that’s not just an expression.

Wolf Guy is an insane movie. It won’t be a movie for most people. But the right kind of audience should love it. I don’t love it but I guess I appreciate it for what it is: pure madness, but cool pure madness. And not so visually off putting that I have to wash my eyes out for ten hours after seeing it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: ’70s Japanese horror and tokusatsu, as well as ’70s Sonny Chiba action crime movies.

Film Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Release Date: March 14th, 1975 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Written by: Monty Python
Music by: Dewolfe
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

Python (Monty) Pictures, Michael White Productions, National Film Trustee Company, EMI Films, Cinema 5 Distributing, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” – French Soldier

I’ve never been a big Monty Python fan and I know those are fighting words from big Monty Python fans but I don’t care.

It’s not to say that I don’t find some amusement within these movies but once I’ve seen one, it’s hard for me to go back and see them again. But that also applies to most comedy movies for me. Well, except for a few things I am a big fan of like old school Bill Murray movies, the Police Academy franchise (omitting part 7) and a lot of ’80s comedies that I probably only love because nostalgia is a needy whore that must be satisfied every so often.

And that’s the thing with Monty Python movies. I just don’t have the nostalgia for them because they were a decade before my time and I never saw them until I was into my 20s. But also, I’m not a big fan of parody films unless it’s a very small sample of the best of Mel Brooks’ oeuvre.

I do love the cast and a lot of these guys have gone on to be in movies I’ve loved over the years. Especially, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Then there’s also Terry Gilliam, who has gone on to make some solid motion pictures outside of the comedy genre.

I appreciate this movie for being the first real exposure to these talented guys outside of the UK. And it is a funny movie but it’s not something I need to experience, again and again.

From memory, I think that The Life of Brian was the one I liked the most. So I do plan on revisiting that one again soon, simply so I can review it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Monty Python films and projects.

Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.