Category Archives: 1971 Movie reviews

Dirty Harry-1971

Dirty Harry-1971

Director-Don Siegel

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino

Top 100 Films-#86

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Reviewed July 4, 2016

Grade: A

Dirty Harry is a classic crime drama that became a signature role for Clint Eastwood as the title character, a character he has played four more times. Dirty Harry set the tone for the plethora of crime thrillers and police action films that filled theaters throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. This film still holds up very well and is a masterpiece of the cat and mouse/detective genre.

Quiet, controlled, but filled with anger below the surface (we learn his wife was killed by a drunk driver), Harry Callahan is a tough cop in San Francisco who has clearly seen it all. He is a red-blooded American good guy, though is brooding and has a mind of his own, oftentimes disagreeing with his superiors and their rules. He epitomizes good versus evil. A vicious killer named Scorpio (based on the real life Zodiac killer) is on the loose, having killed two people already. His motives are unclear, but that is rather unimportant. What is important is that he threatens to kill one person per day unless his demands of $100,000 are met. Harry is immediately assigned to the case despite his reputation for being difficult and violent. This leads to a cat and mouse game between Harry and Scorpio in Harry’s pursuit of the criminal.

Scorpio is played by Andy Robinson, who is a fantastic villain- perhaps one of the most frightening in film history. His dirty blonde locks, yet angelic face, combined with maniacal facial expressions make his portrayal quite frightening. He is a sniper so he is continually perched on rooftops seeking his next victim. As he watches a couple eating ice cream in the park or a woman swimming in a roof top pool, we feel a sense of voyeurism and dread. His disturbed sense of humor and sadistic personality make him quite scary.

The film succeeds in large part because of its grit and violence.  And it is a very masculine film. Harry is a take no prisoners kind of guy and he is hell bent on stopping Scorpio from killing- no matter what. In a very effective scene, Harry chases Scorpio to a vast football field and uses torture to elicit a confession from Scorpio. It is a bloody and intense scene, but quite necessary to who Harry is. Of course, this tactic backfires as Scorpio is released from the hospital and set free. This leads to a further feud between the two men.

An added bonus of Dirty Harry, and one aspect that gives so much authenticity, is the on location setting of San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to the illustrious mountains outside of the city and of the Pacific Ocean, these elements give a realism to an already gritty film. Chinatown and Dolores Park are also featured. Highlighting all of this is a sequence where Scorpio forces Harry to go from locale to locale on foot in part of a wicked game to save a victim.

Harry’s famous lines as he points his gun the perpetrators and mocks them by asking them if loaded five or six bullets in his gun are now legendary as is his “Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?” On the surface a bit silly and gimmicky, these catchphrases somehow still work.

The school bus finale as Harry and Scorpio once again square off is great. As Scorpio hijacks a bus filled with grammer school students, he tricks the students, unaware of his intentions, by engaging them in childrens song sing alongs as the harried bus driver drives out of the city. When one child catches wind of the situation, Scorpio turns nasty, scaring the children into a frenzy.

Dirty Harry is a classic cop film that I never tire of watching. For the genre it is as good as it gets and holds up well. After all of these years, it is tough to disassociate Clint Eastwood from the role of “Dirty Harry”.

The French Connection-1971

The French Connection-1971

Director-William Friedkin

Starring-Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider

Top 100 Films-#69

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Reviewed February 25, 2017

Grade: A

The French Connection had the notable distinction of being the first R-rated film to win the coveted Best Picture Oscar back in 1971. This praise, similar to The Silence of the Lambs being the first horror film to win Best Picture in 1991, is well worth pointing out and is quite honorary. The film succeeds, both for myself and other critics, because of the unique style of the camerawork, shot documentary style and using quick edits. It is much more intricate in every way than the traditional crime thriller.

Gene Hackman stars as the feisty detective, Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, who along with his partner, Buddy “Cloudy” Russo, (Sheider) are determined to crack the case of a huge heroin smuggling syndicate from France. The narcotics are flowing into New York City and the duo are determined to get to the bottom of the drug ring, figuring out who is the mastermind and defeating their foe. The primary culprit is a suave French drug lord named Alain Charnier, brilliantly played by Fernando Rey. Throughout the course of the film the action is non-stop, traversing throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, via subway, and car, as Popeye becomes more and more obsessed with the case.

Director William Friedkin, who also directed the legendary 1973 film, The Exorcist, deserves a heap of praise for creating a film of this caliber. The French Connection can be enjoyed by all and is well beyond the limitations of a “guy film”- it is much more than that. The editing and frenetic pacing works wonders for the film, all the while not ruining the experience or overshadowing the good plot. Quite simply, the film is a chase across New York City. Friedkin distinguishes the boroughs by making Manhattan seem sophisticated and stylish, and Brooklyn dirty, grizzled, and drug laden. The settings are perfect.

The best scene in the film is the well known car chase throughout New York City. Popeye is determined not to lose his man, the man riding in a subway on an elevated platform. Popeye steals a car and proceeds to chase the subway narrowly missing pedestrians, including a woman with a baby carriage, as he recklessly weaves in and out of traffic at a high speed, to keep pace with the train. This is a phenomenal scene as the excitement and tension continue to build.

The conclusion of the film and the final scene in fact, is cynical and also leaves the audience perplexed and unsure what has transpired. In this way The French Connection is open to good discussion and even interpretation, a novel aspect of the action film.

Providing a tremendous glimpse into 1970’s Manhattan and Brooklyn, The French Connection is an exciting film that oozes with thrills, car chases, and good story. The film is unique in style and still holds up incredibly well- one of my favorites of the action genre.

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Jill St. John

Top 100 Films-#57

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Reviewed May 16, 2013

Grade: A

Despite this being one of the lower rated James Bond films, this is actually one of my favorite films of all time and many would disagree with me. Some say Sean Connery phoned this performance in, some say there was little chemistry between him and Jill St. John, and tension filled the sets leading to a sub-par offering, but I think this is a great film.

I love the Las Vegas locale, the bright lights, flashy costumes, and a ritzy underbelly- and the Vegas car chase is amazing. A bright, shiny Ford Mustang takes center stage throughout the sequence, and if one looks closely, they will realize that nearly all the cars are Fords- fun fact!

The title song by Shirley Bassey is great- sultry and stylish only enhanced by the glitzy setting. One immediately imagines the film oozing with diamonds as it does.

The villains are interesting and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd were the first openly gay Bond villains, which, in 1971 was groundbreaking. Yes, they are evil and slightly baffoonish, but what a risky and surprising blatant scene to see the gentlemen holding hands.

St. John is a sophisticated and intelligent Bond girl and the action in this film is plenty. It contains all the elements for an enjoyable Bond experience.

A Clockwork Orange-1971

A Clockwork Orange-1971

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Malcolm McDowell

Top 100 Films-#9     Top 10 Disturbing Films-#7

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Reviewed December 10, 2015

Grade: A

A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking Stanley Kubrick film and my personal favorite in his collection, more than one of which appears on my Top 100 Favorite Films list.  Adapted from the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel and thought to be unable to make into a film, it becomes  a psychedelic, creative, and fascinating experience from start to finish. Bizarre and extremely thought-provoking, Kubrick tells the story of a London sociopath delinquent living in futuristic London, and the strange behavior modifications performed on him after he is apprehended by the police, in an attempt to “reform” him and transition him to be a useful member of society.

The film delves into such social and insightful themes such as morality and psychology and questions these weighty topics. Interspersed with classical music and wonderful, colorful sets, A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece in bizarre artistic cinema.

Alex DeLarge loves classical music (specifically Beethoven), violence, and hanging out with friends. He constantly skips school, beats people up, and parties with his friends. His pet snake is his best friend, and his parents seem afraid of him. Finally arrested after murdering an odd lady with dozens of cats, Alex is sent away to prison where he volunteers for an experimental “Ludovico” technique, which Alex assumes is a “get out of jail free” card. What transpires next is a freakish and uncomfortable experience for Alex.

The film contains startling and disturbing scenes throughout- when Alex and his team of “droogs” become inebriated from a concoction of milk laced with drugs and embark on an evening of self proclaimed ultra violence, they drive to the country where they break in to wealthy author F. Alexander’s house and beat him, crippling him for life. They rape his wife while forcing him to watch, all the while Alex happily sings “Singin’ in the Rain” timing the beats of the song to acts of violence. The brutality and creativity of this scene is mesmerizing and certainly unforgettable.

We the audience might despise a character like Alex, however, sympathy is felt for him as his “reformation” begins. A disturbing scene, which is forever embedded in my mind, involves the attaching of a contraption forcing Alex’s eyelids wide open while he watches violent scenes and is administered a drug to make him sick, thereby associating the violence with illness. He becomes psychologically screwed up. Alex (thanks to a wonderful portrayal by Malcolm McDowell) is charismatic and humorous and, in some warped way, quite likable to audience, despite his devious ways.

A Clockwork Orange continues to disturb me after multiple viewings- who can forget the sinister grin that Alex wears and the creepy one eyelash with mascara that he possesses? The film sends an interesting message about human nature as Alex turns from predator to the hunted. We ask, “are human beings  naturally prone to violence”?

The direction of the film is breathtaking- the weird colors, the (as traditional with Stanley Kubrick)  long shot camera angles, the intense musical crescendos. And the genre of classical music is a wonderful and ominous choice- almost adding a level of sophistication to Alex and the violence. The weird supporting characters (Alex’s parents, the probation officer, and his parents roommate) and the suddenly fast-forwarded sex scenes were unheard of for its time.

Immensely creative and unconventional film making with a moral message and questions about society and mankind, A Clockwork Orange is a groundbreaking and fantastic, trippy experience. A masterpiece from top to bottom.

Harold and Maude-1971

Harold and Maude-1971

Director-Hal Ashby

Starring-Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon

Top 100 Films-#59

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Reviewed December 21, 2014

Grade: A

Harold and Maude is one of the bravest and most left of center films that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. A subject matter so taboo that it had never before been explored in cinema and, to my knowledge, has not since. The film challenges so many mainstream views of aging, sex, and relationships. Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort give performances of a lifetime.

The film tells the story of an unhappy, wealthy teenager named Harold (Cort) whose mother- hilariously played by Vivian Pickles- is a cold socialite attempting to reform Harold of his rebellious adolescent behavior. Harold frequently plays suicide pranks on her and the numerous females she tries to set him up with, reducing them to tearful exits from the family mansion in frightened hysterics. Obsessed with attending funerals for fun, one day Harold meets Maude (Gordon), an elderly woman, at a funeral, and it turns out that both share the same fascination, but for vastly different reasons as the story shows. They embark on a tender romance despite their age difference of over sixty years.

In many ways Maude is the real adolescent of the film, which I love. It is a role reversal of sorts. On the cusp of age eighty she has a pure zest for life, living each minute as if it was her last, unconcerned with the consequences of her actions- she is a true free spirit. She gleefully steals cars that happen to be parked on the street and her erratic driving is comically brilliant. Harold becomes the more responsible one despite being the tender age of only nineteen. He cares for Maude and her shocking revelation towards the end of the film floors Harold. It will also shock the audience. Harold and Maude deals with death, but is far from a downer. In fact, it is hilarious at times, brilliantly written, and Maude, a Nazi prison camp survivor, does not fear death- she has seen her share of it and almost embraces it. Harold is just beginning his life and the contrast of the characters and their growing bond is what works best in this film.

The aforementioned Vivian Pickles knocks it out of the park with her portrayal of Harold’s mother- her comic wit and timing are excellent- she callously hosts a dinner party and boasts of her travels to France to the guests while Harold sits ignored, bored, and depressed, staring at his mother is disbelief. He wants nothing to do with her or her trivial lifestyle. She makes an unimportant phone call while Harold’s dangles from the ceiling in a faux suicide attempt- clearly a cry for attention from his mother. This is total black comedy.

The implied intimacy between Harold and Maude was too much for many viewers in 1971. I find it sweet and quite tastefully done. They simply fall in love and it feels wonderful for both of them. I would be remiss for not mentioning the wonderful, lively soundtrack by Cat Stevens.

Edgy, laugh out loud, unusual, witty are words to describe Harold and Maude- one of the most intelligent comedies in film history.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

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Reviewed December 16, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five year olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby. The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like? The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entire edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening river boat. The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary river boat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually have weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” are memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Director-Norman Jewinson

Starring-Topol, Norma Crane

Top 100 Films-#91

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Reviewed June 17, 2013

Grade: A

 Fiddler on the Roof is a fantastic musical from 1971 based on the popular stage version. It tells the story of a Russian Jewish family living in the conflicted times before and during the Russian revolution. The film has everything and is very well made, truly doing justice to the stage version. It contains dancing, drinking, festive parties, love, and sing-alongs. It also contains politics, hardships, and tragedy.

Led by the patriarch of the family, Teyve, played fantastically by Topol, he explains (often narrating directly to the audience, which is a goldmine in style) life in his Russian village with five daughters and no sons, and an overbearing wife. They are a poor family and struggle to make ends meet. They go through life with the help of song and dance and deal with such situations as romance- focusing mostly on the three oldest girls, and the political upheaval that surrounds their country.

It is tough for a film version of a famous musical to be top notch and even compare to the stage version, but the film is wonderful- “Tradition”, “Matchmaker”, and “If I Were a Rich Man” immediately stick in the viewer’s head. The film has a rich, earthy feel to it, with lots of brown and grey colors, and Russian history is explored giving it a complexity and an educational quality instead of only a simple, feel good experience. To put it simply- the story is layered and not one-note.

Politics, progressive thinking versus conservatism, and the generation gap, are explored and the characters learn and adapt to a changing world, especially the parents. One interesting aspect is the progressive onset of the Russian revolution as gradually it draws closer. Fiddler on the Roof is quite lengthy (179 minutes), but does not seem that long. This film (and play) is a marvel.