Film Review: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

Release Date: February 15th, 1976
Directed by: John Cassavetes
Written by: John Cassavetes
Music by: Bo Harwood
Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew

Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.

Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.

Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.

Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.

Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.

There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.

This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.

While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: All the President’s Men (1976)

Release Date: April 4th, 1976 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Music by: David Shire
Cast: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Ned Beatty, Meredith Baxter, Penny Fuller, F. Murray Abraham, David Arkin, Richard Herd, Dominic Chianese, James Karen

Wildwood Enterprises, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“I never asked about Watergate. I simply asked what were Hunt’s duties at the White House. They volunteered he was innocent when nobody asked if he was guilty.” – Bob Woodward

I hadn’t seen this in years and I honestly didn’t remember a lot of the details about the film itself. Sure, we all know the story about Nixon and Watergate, especially in the year that this came out in, but knowing the ending doesn’t mean that this is a boring or even predictable movie.

Also, having forgot all the details of the story and this film, I found it interesting and compelling, as events and information painted a damning picture of corruption and conspiracy.

I also found it intriguing that this picture’s cast was stacked with so many top notch actors that I had either forgotten about or hadn’t grown to truly appreciate when I last watched this back in the ’90s.

Back then, I didn’t understand or recognize the greatness of Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, Ned Beatty, F. Murray Abraham or James Karen. I also really only knew Meredith Baxter from her successful sitcom Family Ties. Well, at least I always knew that Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman were f’n legends.

I also didn’t know that this was directed by the same guy that gave us the near perfect film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as Sophie’s Choice, The Parallax View and Klute.

So it should go without saying that the acting in this film is stupendous. In fact, it might really be a clinic, not that many modern actors care about their art anymore, where they seem to be mostly rewarded by cashing in virtue signal points, as opposed to making audiences believe them.

It’s also well directed except that I felt like the pacing could’ve used some work. Granted, this does a great job of building up suspense like a great thriller should, it just feels like it drags a bit in spots.

Still, this is an enthralling film that does its job well and if that’s the only negative, which is pretty minor, than I can’t really harp on it too hard.

All the President’s Men is deservedly a classic and every legend within this film brought their A-game and made this a much better picture than it would have been in less capable hands.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other top notch dramatic political thrillers, such as JFK, Marathon Man and Nixon.

Film Review: Marathon Man (1976)

Release Date: October 6th, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: Marathon Man by William Goldman
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller, Richard Bright

Robert Evans Company, Beckerman Productions, Paramount Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“The gun had blanks, the knife, a retractable blade. Hardly original, but effective enough. I think you’ll agree. I’m told you are a graduate student. Brilliant, yes? You are an historian, and I am part of history. I should have thought you would have found me interesting. Frankly, I am disappointed in your silence.” – Christian Szell

The thought of seeing Dustin Hoffman act opposite of Laurence Olivier is an intriguing one and well, it was really cool seeing them both in this, as it felt like a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actors to the next.

Add in Roy Scheider, one of my all-time favorite manly men actors, and this thing has a pretty f’n solid trio of premier acting talent!

This was also directed by John Schlesinger, who already pulled a legendary performance out of Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.

Overall, this was a really good motion picture, even though I had a few issues with it. None of them really break the movie for me, though.

The acting in this was incredible but that should probably go without saying but I was pretty impressed by the lesser known talents, as well.

This was also a really good looking picture that did a superb job of capturing an authentic feeling 1970s New York City onscreen. I especially loved the street scene with the Nazi trying to evade the people who recognize him, as well as the long sequence that saw Dustin Hoffman run through the streets at night, trying to evade capture.

My one big issue with the film comes down to the pacing. It felt a bit disjointed and off in some parts. There’d be stretches of the film that seemed to move along at a good speed and then there’d be these pockets where things seemed to slow to a crawl.

I also felt like there were a lot of things in this movie that just felt like plot convenience. For instance, the Nazi asshole being recognized by nearly every Jew he came across in New York City seemed a bit farfetched. And none of that really went anywhere, other than having the Nazi kill an old guy in the middle of the day while running from an old lady shouting from across the street. He gets away, unscathed in a taxicab.

But, as I said, the flaws weren’t so bad that they wrecked the film. However, they did get in the way of making this a great one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s crime thrillers.

Film Review: To the Devil A Daughter (1976)

Also known as: Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter (Netherlands), Child of Satan (US VHS title)
Release Date: March 4th, 1976 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sykes
Written by: Chris Wicking, John Peacock, Gerald Vaughan-Hughes
Based on: To the Devil A Daughter by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: Paul Glass
Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Nastassja Kinski, Denholm Elliott, Michael Goodliffe, Anthony Valentine, Eva Maria Meineke

Terra-Filmkunst, Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It is not heresy, and I will not recant!” – Father Michael Rayner

This has been a film I’ve wanted to see for years but I was never actually able to find it on VHS or DVD when I was still buying those things. Granted, I’m leaning back towards owning physical media again after some recent shenanigans by studios and streaming services but that’s a totally different article.

Anyway, this actually exceeded my expectations for it and it kind of sucks that Hammer was already fading away by the time this was released.

The movie features Christopher Lee, one of Hammer’s two greatest actors, but it also features the legendary Richard Widmark, Indiana Jones’ Denholm Elliott, Goldfinger‘s Honor Blackman and a very young Nastassja Kinski before she would go on to give stellar performances in Cat People and one of my favorite films of all-time, Paris, Texas.

While this is sort of your typical Antichrist movie, it stars Lee as an evil priest and Kinski as the daughter of the Devil. Kinski plays a nun and she’s been raised and protected by her father, who was forced into a pact with the evil priest and the Devil. However, he wants to keep his daughter away from her evil destiny and sends her to Widmark, a renowned demonology writer, who uncovers what’s happening and sets out to conquer the Devil and his top minion.

For a mid-’70s low budget horror flick, this is really well acted but, as I’ve already pointed out, it had a stacked cast.

What works most for this film is its atmosphere and the general creepiness of it. It also features some neat practical effects that make some moments in the film a real mindfuck. Needless to say, I was impressed by what the filmmakers were able to do with so little in regards to the production’s resources.

To the Devil A Daughter is sort of bittersweet in the fact that it’s so surprisingly good and it showed that Hammer was evolving with the times but it wasn’t enough to save the studio from having to focus more on television and not future feature films.

However, the damage was already done, as this was a co-production with a German studio. Because of that, despite this being a financial success, the profits had to be split with the other company.

While Hammer has never actually died off, this does feel like a worthy sendoff to the once great studio.

After decades of hibernation, Hammer started making films again in recent years.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other occult horror films with Christopher Lee or put out by Hammer or Amicus.

Film Review: Gus (1976)

Release Date: July 7th, 1976
Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Arthur Alsberg, Don Nelson, Ted Key
Music by: Robert F. Brunner
Cast: Don Knotts, Edward Asner, Gary Grimes, Tim Conway, Harold Gould, Ronnie Schell, Tom Bosley, Louise Williams, Dick Butkus, Dick Van Patten, Bob Crane, Johnny Unitas, Richard Kiel, Stu Nahan

Walt Disney Productions, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Ready, Gus. Oich!” – Andy Petrovic

I was an avid viewer of just about every live-action Disney film put out from the ’50s up through the early ’90s. I had the Disney Channel, in its original subscription form, back in the late ’80s and a bit beyond. So stuff like this was on my television all the time. It’s also hard not to be an old school Disney nut when raised in Florida.

Still, this movie remained unknown to me until I got Disney+ and saw it available on there. Since I had never seen it and since I love Don Knotts, I had to check it out.

Unfortunately, Don Knotts isn’t in the movie anywhere near enough. He plays the wacky coach of a loser football team but most of the film focuses on Andy and his field goal kicking mule.

This is one of many Disney animal movies, as well as one of many Disney sports films. It’s cool seeing the two things come together though, as the concept, at least by this point, hadn’t been done to death courtesy of the Air Bud franchise and it’s 97 sequels and spinoffs.

At its core, this film is lighthearted and positive. It’s also got a lot of slapstick humor and some seriously good physical gags. My favorite sequence in the film features Tom Bosley and his buddy trying to capture Gus, the mule, in a supermarket. It plays like a live-action Road Runner cartoon, as the bumbling goofs continue to get upstaged and made into fools.

I can’t really say much on the sports elements of the film other than you have to turn your brain off because this is, after all, a movie about a mule playing in the National Football League.

While the team in the movie is fictitious, I liked that this was made with help from the NFL and featured some of the iconic teams, as well as former players and legends in various roles.

Gus isn’t a bad movie but it’s far from great. It’s one of the more enjoyable Disney animal comedies of the ’70s but for most people, this will probably come across as a very dated relic that will just be dismissed as stupid schlock.

And it could’ve used a lot more Don Knotts.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other wacky live-action Disney movies featuring animals.

 

Film Review: Kill or Be Killed (1976)

Also known as: Karate Olympia (South African English title), Karate Killer (original US release)
Release Date: June 17th, 1976 (South Africa)
Directed by: Ivan Hall
Written by: C.F. Beyers-Boshoff
Cast: James Ryan, Charlotte Michelle, Nroman Coombes, Raymond Ho-Tong, Danie DuPlessis, Stan Schmidt

Kavalier Films, Film Ventures International, 90 Minutes

Review:

When I watched and reviewed this film’s sequel, I didn’t know that this one existed. I guess it kind of flew under my radar for years.

Overall, it’s probably a better movie than its sequel but I’d say that it’s less enjoyable, as the sequel was more bonkers than this one and it was just much more over the top.

That’s not to say that this one also isn’t a bit crazy.

The story is about a Nazi general that felt embarrassed when his fighting team lost in the Olympics way back in the day because Miyagi, the leader of the Japanese team, paid off the judges with diamonds. Now, years later, the general trains and holds tournaments in a fortress in the desert.

This brings in James Ryan, as Steve – the same character he plays in the sequel, who is essentially a badass karate fighter that is forced to fight in the Nazi dude’s tournament. This movie is basically a ’90s fighting game with a Nazi twist to it.

Steve and his girlfriend want to escape the Nazi fortress but they run into problems along the way but end up getting assistance from other fighters and a midget that is sympathetic to them, even though he is the henchman of the Nazi general.

See, this movie is pretty nuts.

Anyway, it’s fairly enjoyable for what it is and I loved the locations where this movie was shot. South Africa is pretty beautiful and it provided some spectacular landscapes that made this low budget action flick seem like a much bigger production.

I thought the tournament fights and general action sequences were well done and even though this doesn’t hold a candle to the best action films Cannon made in the ’80s, it really channels the same sort of energy and vibe. It’s almost like this is a proto-Cannon film.

Overall, most people would probably serve themselves best by skipping this movie. But for those of us who enjoy martial arts schlock from outside of the US, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, Kill and Kill Again.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: The Enforcer (1976)

Also known as: Moving Target, Dirty Harry III (working titles)
Release Date: December 16th, 1976 (London premiere)
Directed by: James Fargo
Written by: Stirling Silliphant, Dean Riesner, Gail Morgan Hickman, S.W. Schurr
Based on: characters by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, Tyne Daly, John Mitchum, DeVeren Bookwalter, Albert Popwell, John Crawford, Dick Durock, Jocelyn Jones

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you what you are to me, little man. You’re just a maggot who sells dirty pictures.” – ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan

By the time you get to the third film in a movie series, one would usually expect the quality to start waning. However, Death Wish 3 has the greatest action finale of any movie ever made, so maybe Dirty Harry 3 a.k.a. The Enforcer would follow suit.

Well, this is no Death Wish 3 and it’s also not Dirty Harry 1 but I do like it slightly better than Dirty Harry 2 a.k.a. Magnum Force and thought that it was a very worthy sequel that kept the Harry character relevant.

This film gets away from the “system is broken” plot line that was featured so heavily in the first two movies. Sure, we see an idiot mayor and city officials that run the town like morons but this is also San Francisco and we all know how that city turned out in the future: hobo poop and dirty needles everywhere.

Anyway, this film focuses on a different political message in that it forces Harry to have to team up with a new partner: a woman. This woman is played by Tyne Daly of Cagney & Lacey fame and I’ve always kind of liked her, so it was cool seeing her play another female cop, albeit younger than she would be by the time that television show rolled around.

The story is about a group of extreme revolutionaries that steal some high grade military shit and start terrorizing the town. There is a subplot featuring black militants, as they are set up by the mayor’s people to take the fall. This is also done to give credit to Harry and his new female partner, which the mayor uses to “prove” that his feminist cop initiative is a success. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Harry or the female cop, especially since Harry worked out a deal with the leader of the black militants minutes before they were arrested.

As should be expected, this is an action heavy film and it moves at a much better pace due to its shorter running time. I like the bad guys, the subplots, Harry is still Harry, Tyne Daly is really good and I dug the finale, as it takes place at Alcatraz.

Sadly, Tyne Daly gets killed in the end, which was predictable but also cost the series a really good co-star. Her chemistry with Clint Eastwood was good and I really wanted to see her grow over the course of future films.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dirty Harry movies, as well as the Death Wish series.

Film Review: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Also known as: Communion (original title), Holy Terror (edited version), The Mask Murders (reissue title), Sweet Alice (Sweden)
Release Date: November 12th, 1976 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Alfred Sole
Written by: Rosemary Ritvo, Alfred Sole
Music by: Stephen J. Lawrence
Cast: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Brooke Shields

Harristown Funding, Allied Artists, 98 Minutes, 108 Minutes (unrated version)

Review:

“She is a weird little girl. Did you notice her tits? When I put the tube around her she looked at me, like she wanted me to feel her up.” – Detective Cranston

Many people try to debate over which movie was the first slasher film. While this one isn’t it, it does predate Halloween by a few years. Although, it did come out after Black Christmas. But to me, none of those are the first and I feel like slasher films were born out of Italian giallo. The reason I even bring that up is that this is considered a slasher movie, and it is, but it has a strong resemblance to the giallo style.

This isn’t an Italian picture though. In fact, it was made in New Jersey. But it very strongly takes its cues from the films of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and others.

It’s lacking the visual allure of giallo, as it has a more natural and muted color palate but the story structure, the violence and the general tone just fits well with those cool flicks.

The story is about a little girl who is believed to have horribly murdered her younger sister in the church during her first communion. While things aren’t quite what they seem in this movie, the little girl is a real shit and she’s certainly pretty fucked in the head.

However, this seems to be more about tapping into the fear of the nuclear family breaking down in American society. It also might be a critique on the Catholic church. Many people seem to think so. Personally, I think it’s just a story that happens to take place in and around the Catholic church, which has a big presence in New Jersey and the Northeast in general, especially in the ’70s.

All things considered, this is a film that probably shocked some of its audience in its day but it’s hardly as shocking as a lot of the exploitation movies that were at their peak in the same decade. All the things that would’ve caught people off guard all stem from the fact that the title character is a young child.

This isn’t really gory. There’s some blood but the worst stuff is more implied and happens once the camera cuts away. That could also be due to the budget of the production.

Overall, this was a cool movie to check out. It has some cult status among ’70s horror aficionados but it doesn’t really hit the mark for me. At least, it doesn’t reach the heights of the best giallo pictures and I certainly wouldn’t put this above Black Christmas or Halloween.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s slasher pictures and Italian giallo.

Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.