Film Review: Wildcats (1986)

Also known as: American Wildcats, First and Goal (alternative German titles)
Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Ezra Sacks
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Goldie Hawn, James Keach, Swoosie Kurtz, Robyn Lively, Brandy Gold, Jan Hooks, Bruce McGill, Nipsey Russell, Mykelti Williamson, Tab Thacker, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Nick Corri, M. Emmet Walsh, LL Cool J, George Wyner, Ann Doran, Gloria Stuart

Hawn / Sylbert Movie Company, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck you!” – Marvel, “Fuck you what?!” – Molly McGrath, “Fuck you… Coach McGrath.” – Marvel, “Better.” – Molly McGrath

I know that Wildcats isn’t the greatest football movie ever made but it’s always been my personal favorite and my favorite movie starring Goldie Hawn, who I thought was awesome in pretty much everything, back in the day.

This film also gave us Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, two actors I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over their decades long careers. In fact, they’d even work together again, multiple times. I kind of wish they’d still do stuff together on the regular. C’mon guys, can we get a Money Train 2 or White Men Can’t Walk?

Overall, this movie did more to sell football to me as a kid than my football fanatic uncles and growing up in Florida ever did, where high school and college football team allegiances were like religious cults.

I love that this movie takes a strong woman, dealing with real struggles as a single mother, and pushes her to the limit, where she overcomes all of her challenges and proves that she’s got what it takes.

I also like these stories where the right kind of mentor comes in and helps troubled kids that society has already given up on and pushes them towards a much better life. There were a lot of these types of films in the ’80s, many of them serious but also some of them funny.

This is one of the funny ones but that doesn’t make what Hawn’s Molly McGrath accomplishes any less impactful or important. And while real life often times leaves kids like these without the right sort of mentor or guidance, as a kid in similar situations, I always found encouragement in stories like this. This also might explain why some of my favorite movies growing up were Lean On Me, Stand and Deliver and Summer School, which many adults and critics just dismissed as a stupid stoner comedy. 

Now the story and sequence of events in this are far from perfect but the heart and soul in the picture really elevates it. You like these kids, you like all the characters except for the ones that are supposed to be shitty but in the end, the angry ex-husband sees the light and the scumbag rival coach gets what he deserves.

This is a feel good movie and even if some of it feels paint-by-numbers and formulaic, that doesn’t make it a bad or even a derivative movie. This has enough unique flourishes in it to make it stand out.

Plus, Goldie Hawn is just so damn likable and adorable but she’s also driven, strong and earns the respect of her players, her critics and the film’s audience. And she does it the hard way.

It’s also kind of sad that Hollywood seems incapable of telling these stories well, anymore.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: The Painted Hills (1951)

Also known as: Lassie’s Adventures in the Goldrush (alternative title), Lassie’s Christmas Story (DVD title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Harold F. Kress
Written by: True Boardman, Alexander Hull
Based on: The Lassie novels by Eric Knight
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Pal (credited as “Lassie”), Paul Kelly, Bruce Cowling, Gary Gray, Ann Doran

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 68 Minutes

Review:

This must have been featured on one of the few Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed because I don’t remember Joel and the ‘Bots ever riffing a Lassie movie.

In fact, based off of the film’s title, I had just assumed this was a standard western. Now while it is a western and a pretty basic one, Lassie the dog is front and center and gets top billing.

All that being said, this is a pretty boring movie even for a Lassie one but full disclosure, I’ve never been a big Lassie fan.

It lacks the energy and spirit of the television show, the version of Lassie I, and probably everyone, am most familiar with.

The story actually doesn’t even feel that much like a Lassie story, as the dog is named Shep. It’s also a darker tale than the television plots, as it focuses on a nice old prospector who finds gold but is then murdered by his partner. The evil partner also poisons Shep the dog and nearly kills Tommy, the little kid in the story. Lassie… er… Shep gets revenge though, as she chases the evil bastard until he falls off of a cliff to his death.

I should’ve prefaced that paragraph with a spoiler alert but I’m saving my readers from watching this dud. However, I guess it’s palatable if you watch it on MST3K.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Lassie movies, as well as the long running television show.

Film Review: Kitten With a Whip (1964)

Release Date: November 4th, 1964 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Douglas Heyes
Written by: Douglas Heyes, Whit Masterson
Music by: William Loose, Henry Mancini, Carl W. Stalling
Cast: Ann-Margret, John Forsythe, Ann Doran

Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Why, David, I thought I’d never find you in ladies’ underwear.” – Saleslady

Kitten With a Whip was a movie made to bank off of the popularity of rising star Ann-Margret. However, it’s a pretty terrible film that feels like it was rushed out to strike while the iron was hot. Luckily for Ann-Margret, her career had some staying power, she wasn’t a flash in the pan and she’d go on to be in much better films.

As bad as this was though, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it got riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Plus, it fits nicely with a lot of the other B-movie teen and beatnik flicks that they played a lot.

The story is about a politician (John Forsythe), whose wife is out of town. One night he comes home to discover Ann-Margret’s Jody hiding out. Jody gives some sob story and convinces the sad sap to help her out.

Soon after, juvenile delinquents show up and make his life a living hell, as his nice house becomes a beatnik party bunker. The politician is afraid of scandal, so he puts up with it. Also, at one point, Jody tells him that she’ll accuse him of rape if he gets the cops. Eventually, the beatnik punks get violent and the politician and Jody flee to Mexico with the delinquents on their tail.

Honestly, the plot is a bit nuts but it does tap into some film-noir tropes while clearly trying to be more like the youth movies of the day.

This isn’t particularly well made, despite having good stars and being made by Universal.

Ultimately, this did showcase Ann-Marget’s dramatic side where her previous films were musicals. So in some way, I’m sure this helped her career more than it hurt it.

This is pretty forgettable though.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other Ann-Margret movies or other beatnik films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Pitfall (1948)

Release Date: August 24th, 1948
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Karl Kamb, Andre DeToth (uncredited), William Bowers (uncredited)
Based on: The Pitfall by Jay Dratler
Music by: Louis Forbes (uncredited)
Cast: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Raymond Burr, Jane Wyatt, Ann Doran

Regal Films, United Artists, 86 Minutes

Review:

“She probably doesn’t appeal to you but for me, she’s just what I told the doctor to order.” – J.B. MacDonald

I have always liked Dick Powell in film-noir and Lizabeth Scott had my heart from the first moment I saw her. She is one of my favorite leading ladies of all-time, especially from her era. This picture also has Raymond Burr, a guy I’ve always been a fan of since discovering Godzilla at a young age and because of my mum’s love of Perry Mason reruns. Ann Doran also shows up in this movie.

Frankly, there are a lot of good pieces here but the film mostly falls flat. It is film-noir in style but it’s more about infidelity. Strangely, being that this was a 1940s film and that the Hollywood rules were strict on morals, Dick Powell’s character gets off really easy. The truth behind this, is that the film was actually in violation of the Hays Code but Andre DeToth, the director, went before two senior board members and pointed out that they both had mistresses. Needless to say, the film was released as DeToth envisioned it.

Dick Powell is solid in the movie but doesn’t have the presence he had when he was the first actor to play the famous Philip Marlowe character in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet or when he was his typical “tough guy” characters. Lizabeth Scott was as beautiful as ever and had charm and charisma but her character, overall, didn’t have the gravitas of some of her other roles. Raymond Burr, at this point, was just the standard heavy but that was really his role until he became Perry Mason on television.

The problem with this film, is that it starts out strong, moves at a brisk pace but then loses itself somewhere in the middle. While it tackles a provocative subject, for the time, it handles the situation with kid gloves and doesn’t really explore the underlying darkness of the characters’ indiscretions. And as much as I like the cast, I just don’t care enough about their characters.

Pitfall is not a bad film and most people seem to like it more than I did. It’s just one of those movies that pulls you in and then releases you well before the story is over.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Fear In the Night (1947)

Also known as: And So Scared to Death, Nightmare (both working titles)
Release Date: April 18th, 1947
Directed by: Maxwell Shane
Written by: Maxwell Shane
Based on: Nightmare by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Rudy Schrager
Cast: Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, Ann Doran, Kay Scott

Pine-Thomas Productions, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve got an honest man’s conscience… in a murderer’s body.” – Vince Grayson

I came across this old noir film that stars DeForest Kelley. Being a big “Bones” McCoy fan, I figured that I’d check it out.

In this film, we meet Kelley’s Vince Grayson. He wakes up from a nightmare where he killed a man in a strange octagonal house. However, he finds blood on his wrist and some items in his pocket from the nightmare. He is convinced that the nightmare was real and confides in his friend Cliff about the incident. Cliff thinks Vince is just overworked and exhausted and doesn’t believe his dream could be real. However, there is much more to this mystery as the film continues on.

This picture was pleasantly surprising. I thought it would be a low budget throwaway noir movie, as they were a dime a dozen in the late 1940s. It certainly wasn’t magnificent but it filled its scant running time with a decent story and a pretty good reveal and conclusion. Also, DeForest Kelly wasn’t bad for being at the beginning of his long acting career.

The cinematography and camerawork were also a bit impressive for the overall quality and budget of this thing. The scenes in the octagonal room with the mirrored walls came off brilliantly. Visually the one-point perspective of the shot setup allowed the camera to peer down the central mirror and then also veer down the two angled sides beside it, almost implying the varying paths the main character’s mind could venture down. Or sort of implying his split personality between the real world and his dream world where he is a killer.

Realistically, Fear In the Night is just a bit better than your average bear in the noir genre but it showed that the people behind it had a lot more skill than the average bear. For fans of the genre, it is probably worth checking out. You won’t be stunned or shocked by it but it should be fairly enjoyable. And if it isn’t, it’s only 72 minutes.

Rating: 6/10