Category Archives: 1970s

Shaft In Africa

Shaft in Africa

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Starring Richard Roundtree
Frank Finlay
Neda Arnerić
Vonetta McGee
Frank McRae
Distributed by MGM
Release date June 14, 1973
Country (USA)
Running time 112 min.
Language English

Shaft In Africa is the third instalment in the Shaft trilogy of blaxploitation movies from the 1970s. This film focuses on private detective John Shaft after he has been enlisted by an African nation to bust up a slavery ring in Ethiopia and France.

This is a very 70s movie, with lots of slang from the era, much of which would have been hilarious even then. While the music is great it does not feature the iconic Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes which is featured in the first Shaft film. Unlike the other movies John Shaft is more like a black James Bond than what we expect.

Shaft In Africa was the least successful of the Shaft films and was panned by critics. I guess that the reason for this is because Shaft has been taken out of his regular NYC environment, with the film makers obviously trying to make this not just another blaxploitation movie. Personally I enjoyed the picture quite a bit and thought it was rather exciting. Richard Roundtree is as charismatic as ever as John Shaft, whilst one of his love (or should that be lust) interests, Aleme, played by the late Vonetta McGee, looks a lot like Beyonce in this film.

I must also make a slight mention of the cars in the film. Usually in blaxploitation movies you expect to see big, late 60s – early 70s, American V8 muscle cars that have been pimped out to the extreme, but not in Shaft In Africa. At the start of the film Shaft is seen driving and Alfa Romeo GTA, whilst the French villain Amafi drives a Citroen DS. At the end there are also a number of Renault 8s.


Foxy Brown

Cover of "Foxy Brown"

Cover of Foxy Brown

Directed by Jack Hill
Produced by Buzz Feitshans
Written by Jack Hill
Starring Pam Grier
Antonio Fargas
Peter Brown
Terry Carter
Music by Willie Hutch
Cinematography Brick Marquard
Editing by Chuck McClelland
Distributed by AIP
Release date April 5, 1974
Running time 94 min
Country United States
Language English

Foxy Brown is one of blaxploitation’s most iconic films, featuring Pam Grier in the title role, but it is I think a little too over the top with its gratuitiveness, especially with the violence perpetuated towards Foxy. I know that exploitation films are supposed to feature lots of sex, violence and nudity, but the scenes of Foxy being held captive at the farm I felt were something that made me a little uneasy and that the film’s makers had gone a wee bit too far.

Still other than that complaint the film is entertaining and does feature all the hallmarks of a good blaxploitation movie; Pam Grier, 70s fashion, big afros and lots of funky soul music. Sure the acting is terrible in some parts and the dialogue does tend to be a bit clichéd and awkward at times, but I still enjoyed the film mostly.


Bloody Mama

Directed by Roger Corman
Starring Shelley Winters as ‘Ma’ Kate Barker
Pat Hingle as Sam Adams Pendlebury
Don Stroud as Herman Barker
Diane Varsi as Mona Gibson
Bruce Dern as Kevin Dirkman
Clint Kimbrough as Arthur Barker
Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker
Robert Walden as Fred Barker
Alex Nicol as George Barker
Release date March 24, 1970
Running time 90 min.
Country United States
Language English

Bloody Mama is an interesting movie, if a little bit over the top in its campyness, especially the portrayal of Ma Barker by Shelley Winters. It’s not a great film or even a particularly good film, but it is watchable exploitation from Roger Corman. Like much of Corman’s stuff it’s pretty F’d up. This is one of Robert De Niro’s earliest pictures and he gives an interesting performance as Floyd Barker, Ma’s junkie son. The film is not trying to be a faithful biography of America’s notorious crime family, but just an exercise in shocking and entertaining it’s viewers. The film is violent and there is a little bit of nudity BUT surprisingly very little bad language. Bloody Mama was something that I probably will only watch once.


A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Image via Wikipedia

Created by Charles M. Schulz
Directed by Bill Melendez
Voices of Peter Robbins
Chris Shea
Tracy Stratford
Kathy Steinberg
Chris Doran
Geoffrey Ornstein
Karen Mendelson
Sally Dryer
Ann Altieri
Bill Melendez
Theme music composer Vince Guaraldi
Composer Vince Guaraldi
Country of origin USA
Language English

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a holiday tradition in the USA but it had been ages since I had seen it on TV here in Australia. It was the Peanuts Gang’s first television special, and the best one. The story is a little preachy and the religious message is a bit strong, but it’s honest and decries the increasing commercialism of Christmas.

The  animation is a little choppy but there are some scenes, such as the one where all the kids are dancing, which cannot help but raise a smile in the viewer. It also features Vince Guaraldi’s brilliant and catchy jazzy music which became such a key with the Peanuts series.


Westworld

Directed by Michael Crichton
Produced by Paul Lazarus III
Written by Michael Crichton
Starring Yul Brynner
Richard Benjamin
James Brolin
Music by Fred Karlin
Cinematography Gene Polito
Editing by David Bretherton
Distributed by MGM
Release date November 21, 1973
Running time 88 min. (theatrical)
Country US
Language English

Westworld was a film that scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I had nightmares of an out of control robot Yul Brynner chasing me and he couldn’t be killed, which is basically the plot of this movie.The Simpsons parodied the film in the Itchy & Scratchy Land episode.

It’s an enjoyable film to watch but not as scary as I thought it was when I was a kid. It’s an interesting concept of having a theme park full of robots that run amok due to a computer virus. Of course the film (and book it was based on) was made before everyone had a home computer so the idea of computer viruses was virtually unknown. I like some of the little things that Yul does that remind us that he is not human but a robot, such as the way in which he walks while stalking the hero Richard Benjamin.

I notice that Westworld is set to be remade with Russell Crowe in the lead role. I don’t see the point of a remake of what is a great film but if that is the case hopefully it is better than the remake of Robin Hood. It seems that Hollywood has run out of original ideas as now there are so many mediocre remakes or sequals to earlier films. This may be a topic for another time but how many crappy remakes have their been in the last decade?


Murder On the Orient Express

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by John Brabourne
Written by Novel: Agatha Christie
Screenplay: Paul Dehn
Uncredited: Anthony Shaffer
Starring Albert Finney
Lauren Bacall
Sean Connery
Ingrid Bergman
Michael York
Vanessa Redgrave
Jacqueline Bisset
Richard Widmark
John Gielgud
Anthony Perkins
Martin Balsam
Rachel Roberts
Wendy Hiller
Denis Quilley
Colin Blakely
Jean-Pierre Cassel
George Coulouris
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Studio EMI Films
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date November 24, 1974
Running time 128 min.
Country
United Kingdom
Language English

This film is OK, but I don’t think it is as great as it could have been. It has one of the most star-studded casts in Hollywood history yet they ham it up and act way over the top for the film to be taken too seriously. I really cannot stand Albert Finney in his role as Hercule Poirot. I feel that Peter Ustinov was much better in the later Death On The Nile. I also like the TV version of Poirot, David Suchet, but Finney just doesn’t nail the part at all. I find him to be quite bland and he really doesn’t nail Poirot’s Belgian accent at all.

The other actors all have what really amounts to cameos. Lauren Bacall hams her part up a lot and is quite annoying, as is Anthony Perkins, while Ingrid Bergman’s performance is really rather strange. Sean Connery, Michael York, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave don’t really get enough screen time to do anything too impressive.


The Rutles – All You Need Is Cash

Directed by Eric Idle & Gary Weis
Written by Eric Idle
Starring Eric Idle
John Halsey
Ricky Fataar
Neil Innes
Michael Palin
George Harrison
Bianca Jagger
John Belushi
Dan Aykroyd
Gilda Radner
Bill Murray
Running time 76 minutes
Language English

Years before This Is Spinal Tap and almost two decades before Homer’s Barbershop Quartet there was The Rutles, the first ever rock and roll mockumentary and the first spoof of the career of the Beatles. It was created by Monty Python’s Eric Idle and Neil Innes who also wrote the music. Innes was a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in the 1960s.

Anyone who knows the Beatles career and enjoys their music will enjoy this fantastically funny parody which also features a lot of cameos by the Python’s Michael Palin as well as respected musicians such as Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood and the Beatles’ own George Harrison, who was of course close friends with Eric Idle and the rest of the Python’s and was apparently a part of this project right from the start. Also appearing are many Saturday Night Live alumni such as Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi.

The plot of the movie follows the career of the Rutles, four Liverpool lads who took the pop world by storm after being discovered by Leggy Mountbatten, who went onto be their manager. The four, Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry impressed the one-legged Mountbatten with how tightly they wore their trousers rather than their music. There was also a fifth member, Leppo, who left the group when he climbed inside a trunk with a small German fräulein and was never heard from again. Luckily, he couldn’t play anyway.

The film follows the career of the Pre-fab Four from their days playing at the Liverpool Cavern right through to their final album Let It Rot, and features lots of their musical highlights including Ouch!, Goose Step Mama, Cheese And Onions and Get Up And Go.

Apparently most of the Beatles loved the film. George of course had a cameo, while Ringo is said to have liked the happy scenes but thought that the sad ones cut a bit too close. John loved the film and refused to return the preview tape he’d been given, but warned that one song, Get Up And Go, was a little too similar to Get Back and thought that McCartney may sue. Paul refused to comment on the film and was apparently a little frosty towards Idle for a while after, but Linda was said to be a fan.

This film served as inspiration for This Is Spinal Tap as well as the numerous Beatles parodies that have appeared over the years. I feel that this is better than Spinal Tap and is undoubtedly the best of the Beatles parodies.

As a side note, this was one of the first videos that I ever saw back in the early 80s. This movie was a preview on most videos that we borrowed, which is how I learnt of the films existence as a 7-year-old. (Other movies always found as previews include Idi Amin, Greystoke: Legend of Tarzan and King Kong!)


Network

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Howard Gottfried & Fred C. Caruso
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Narrated by Lee Richardson
Starring Faye Dunaway
William Holden
Peter Finch
Robert Duvall
Ned Beatty
Beatrice Straight
Music by Elliot Lawrence
Cinematography Owen Roizman
Editing by Alan Heim
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & United Artists
Release date November 27, 1976
Running time 121 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Network is a great satirical film that is quite prophetic in that it tells about what could really go on behind the scenes on news TV if certain media moguls *cough Rupert Murdoch cough* get their way. It’s amazing that this film was made in 1976, a couple of decades before the rise of News Crop., Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Jerry Springer and reality TV rubbish like Big Brother.

Peter Finch won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of newsreader Howard Beale who suffers an on-air breakdown after being fired but is then manipulated by his media bosses into becoming a ‘mad prophet of doom’. His performance is brilliant and almost steals the film.

“We’ll tell you anything you want to hear, we lie like hell.”

The rest of the cast is great too with great performances by Robert Duvalle, Faye Dunaway (Oscar winner for Best Actress), William Holden and Ned Beatty. Sidney Lumet won an Oscar for Best Director whilst Paddy Chayefsky won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Beatrice Straight also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress despite the fact that she was on-screen for less than ten minutes.

“Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people, and that’s why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communications Corporation of America; there’s a new chairman of the board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy’s office on the twentieth floor. And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?”

This is a great film that is perhaps more true today than it was back in 1976.

Useless Trivia

* Only two actors have posthumously won an Oscar, Peter Finch and Heath Ledger. Both won for Best Supporting Actor and both are Australians.

Link to quotes from Network at IMBD


High Anxiety

Directed by Mel Brooks
Produced by Mel Brooks
Written by Mel Brooks
Ron Clark
Rudy De Luca
Barry Levinson
Starring Mel Brooks
Madeline Kahn
Cloris Leachman
Harvey Korman
Ron Carey
Howard Morris
Dick Van Patten
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Editing by John C. Howard
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date December 25, 1977
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
High Anxiety isn’t one of Mel Brooks’ funniest films but it is watchable and in quite amusing at times. The film is a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers and is meant to be a tribute to Hitch, but it is one that I feel is not really necessary. For one thing Hitchcock’s movies are filled with enough humour themselves, as they never take anything too seriously. They have an underlying dark humour unlike Mel’s obvious pie in the face style.

High Anxiety isn’t as good as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein or The Producers and is probably the point at which Mel Brooks’ films started to become less and less funny. I think that after the monumental success of Blazing Saddles Mel started to half-ass things as his movies after 1974 are merely amusing and not laugh out loud funny.


Young Frankenstein

Directed by Mel Brooks
Produced by Michael Gruskoff
Written by Mel Brooks & Gene Wilder
Starring Gene Wilder
Marty Feldman
Peter Boyle
Teri Garr
Madeline Kahn
Cloris Leachman
Kenneth Mars
and Gene Hackman
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Gerald Hirschfeld
Editing by John C. Howard
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date December 15, 1974
Running time 106 min.
Country United States
Language English
German

Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks at his best and is perhaps his 2nd funniest film after The Producers. I feel that it is slightly better than Blazing Saddles, although those three films are the undoubted high points in Mel’s long career in Hollywood.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Young Frankenstein is a parody film of the 1930s and 40s Boris Karloff Frankenstein films as well as other movies in the 1930s/40s monster genre. Unlike parody films that a made today such as the horrendous Epic Movie, you can tell that the makers of Young Frankenstein actually love the films they are parodying and the movie can be seen as a tribute to those films.

The performances of the cast is great, especially that of Gene Wilder as young Dr. Frankenstein and Marty Feldman as Igor. I do find Feldman constantly breaking the fourth wall to be one of the highlights of the film. There are a lot of great jokes and sketches, especially the scene where the monster goes into the house of the blind man, which is a parody of a scene from Bride of Frankenstein. This is one of the funniest scenes in the movie and Gene Hackman is very funny as the blind man, as are the reactions of Peter Boyle’s monster.

This is a great and very funny film that is one of my all-time favourites and I give it the highest of recommendations.