Monthly Archives: July 1991

Odds Against Tomorrow

This ambitious but mainly unsuccessful 1959 black-and-white heist thrillera loose adaptation of a John P. McGivern novel that is credited to John O. Killens and Nelson Gidding but partly written by blacklisted writer Abraham Polonskyfounders on allegorical positioning, although the location photography of Manhattan and upstate New York has its moments. Three desperate individuals (producer Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley) plan to rob a small-town bank, and the racial conflict between the first two threatens to gum up the operations. Begley, in some ways the most interesting member of the trio, is sadly the least explored, and the jazz score by John Lewis and the roles played by Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame mainly represent other missed opportunities. Jean-Pierre Melville worshipped this film, though I’m not clear why. Robert Wise directed. 95 min. (JR) Read more


High concept, sleek stylishness, low content. The basic idea is Young Guns remade with Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), Bugsy Siegel (Richard Grieco), and Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey) in New York in the 20s. Some attempt is made to compensate for the overfamiliarity of all the elements (read: cliches) with fancy production design (Richard Sylbert), spiffy costumes (Ellen Mirojnick), lots of gore, 30s-style montage sequences (which seem to owe more to The Cotton Club than to the 30s), and the charisma of the actors, who also include F. Murray Abraham, Lara Flynn Boyle, Anthony Quinn, and a rather sinister Nicholas Sadler. Slater, who narrates the story and gets the most screen time, does a pretty good job of making some of this seem less stale than it is, but that’s ultimately a rather hopeless endeavor. Written by Michael Mahern and Nicholas Kazan, and directed, fairly ably, by newcomer Michael Karbelnikoff. (JR) Read more

The Miracle

Set in Bray, Ireland, the seaside hometown of writer-director Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa), this is a somewhat dreamlike tale about a teenage musician (Niall Byrne) falling in love with a mysterious woman (Beverly D’Angelo), an actress starring in a nearby stage production of Destry Rides Again, whose true shocking identity is eventually revealed. For better and for worse, it’s a rather self-conscious and literary mood piece, depending largely on local color and the charm of the principal actors (who also include Lorraine Pilkington as the hero’s best friend) to hold one’s interest. Donal McCann (The Dead) plays the hero’s morose musician father. (JR) Read more

Life Stinks

A primitive filmmaker who can usually be counted on for moments of genius, Mel Brooks runs true to form in a comedy about a greedy billionaire (played by Brooks) who bets another tycoon that he can spend a month with the Los Angeles homeless without any of his usual resources and survive. The movie takes a while to hit its stride, and its conclusion is fairly slapdash, but somewhere in between are some of the funniest bits of low slapstick Brooks has ever come up with, and an overall uncloying sweetness helps to save much of the rest. Coscripted by Rudy De Luca, Steve Haberman, and Ron Clark; with Lesley Ann Warren (in an unconventional turn as a bag lady), Jeffrey Tambor, Stuart Pankin, Howard Morris, and De Luca, who’s especially funny. (JR) Read more


Abel Gance remakes his own melodramatic silent epic about World War I, which focuses on a menage a trois. Two Frenchmen in love with the same woman wind up in the same battalion and agree to let the woman choose between them, but the war makes mincemeat of their lives before she can decide. I can’t vouch for this 1937 version, but the original is wild, eclectic, and inventive like all the best work of Gance, a precursor of Samuel Fuller in more ways than one. In French with subtitles. 119 min. (JR) Read more

The Doctor

William Hurt plays a flip, insensitive, successful surgeon who gets a strong dose of reality when he discovers that he has cancer and has to submit to insensitive treatment himself. At least that’s the story; I found Robert Caswell’s insufferable scriptbased on Ed Rosenbaum’s book A Taste of My Own Medicineso phony, and Hurt’s self-ingratiated preening so unvarying, that the surgeon’s supposed character changes proved wholly unconvincing. Even the cant-proof Christine Lahti, who plays his long-suffering wife, nearly gets thrown for a loop by the falsity of the proceedings, though as usual she manages to emerge relatively unscathed. Somewhat less lucky is Elizabeth Perkins as another cancer patient, who’s assigned plaintive lines and attitudes that perhaps no actress could fully transcend. With Mandy Patinkin, Adam Arkin, and Charlie Korsmo; Randa Haines (Children of a Lesser God) directed (1991). (JR) Read more


A fascinating silent relic by King Kong’s Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, filmed in the jungle of northeast Siam. The putative plot concerns the struggle of a family and its animals against the ravages of jungle beasts (mainly leopards, tigers, and elephants). Clearly fabricated for the camera, with frequent recourse to the deceptive resources of editing (including animal point-of-view shots), and buttressed with quaint intertitles that assign lines of dialogue to many of the animals, this colonialist action romp was the most commercially successful American film of 1927 and was nominated for an Oscar for artistic quality of production; it’s still quite entertaining, though a far cry from anything resembling serious documentary or ethnography. 67 min. (JR) Read more

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster

Riccardo Freda, working under the pseudonym Robert Hampton, directed this 1959 black-and-white Italian SF feature in a Mexican setting (filmed in Spain) about a radioactive glob discovered in a subterranean pool near Mayan ruins. Mario Bava (also under a pseudonym) shot the film; the stars include John Merivale, Dioi Perego, and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart. (JR) Read more

Boyz N The Hood

This 1991 first feature by writer-director John Singleton, then 23, about growing up black in South Central LA, shows some genuine talent in handling character and action, and equal amounts of confusion and attitude when it comes to matters of gender and ghetto politics. (Black women seem to bear the brunt of his anger about problems in the ghetto, and the white power structure is accorded a relatively free and guiltless ride.) With Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, and Larry Fishburne. Stanley Clarke composed the score. Could the widespread popularity of this movie among whites be partially connected to the implicit acceptance of ghettos as an unchangeable fact of life? R, 107 min. (JR) Read more

Body Parts

When a repressed criminal psychologist (Jeff Fahey) loses his right arm in a car accident and it’s replaced by the arm of a mass murderer, he discovers to his horror that his new limb seems to have a will and personality of its own. This provocative and effective thriller, directed by Eric Red (who coscripted and coproduced Near Dark), loses some steam, focus, and coherence in its final reels because of what appears to be clumsy studio recutting, but it’s full of directorial savvy and sharp performances. (The always-interesting Brad Dourif is especially good as a painter who winds up with the mass murderer’s left arm, and the fact that Fahey’s hero is more creepy than charismatic at the outset makes for some interesting ambiguities throughout that aren’t lost on the filmmakers.) Based on the novel Choice Cuts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the same writing team that provided the source novels for Vertigo and Diabolique, and for the most part intelligently written by Red, Norman Snider, Patricia Herskovic, and Joyce Taylor. With Lindsay Duncan, Kim Delaney, Zakes Mokae, and Paul Benvictor. (JR) Read more

Another You

Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder as a con man and a pathological liar who become unwitting and then witting scam partners after Wilder gets mistaken for a missing billionaire. Peter Bogdanovich started the direction of this comedy and was replaced by Maurice Phillips; apparently all of Bogdanovich’s footage was discarded, and what remains is so disassembled and unfunny that if this has any auteurist continuity at all it is with Phillips’s equally disassembled and unfunny Riders on the Storm. Pryor’s ailing physical condition makes much of this a painful experienceno doubt for him as well as for the audience. Ziggy Steinberg wrote and produced. With Mercedes Ruehl, Stephen Lang, and Vanessa Williams. (JR) Read more