1976 represents a fascinating time for America cinema. JAWS had blown the doors off the previous year and started making the studios aware of how to make and put out "blockbuster" films, but there was still a whole lot of interesting, smaller personal movies being made. It really made for a remarkable mix of memorable stuff by the time '76 rolled around. Here are a few of my favorite lesser-seen gems:---------
LIFEGUARD (1976; Donald Petrie)
People obviously know Sam Elliott quite well these days - many will always remember his role as the "narrator" in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. But he had a lot of great work in the 1970s and 80s and a lot of it gets overlooked. One of the great gems from his filmography is this low-key drama about a career beach bum/lifeguard who is faced with the decision to change his career path and his lifestyle when he meets a girl that turns his head around. I've always found this one to be very resonant for me personally. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I worked retail for a really long time and got quite comfortable with it. Though it's far from a lifeguarding gig, I do understand the idea of keeping the job you got when you were eighteen and maybe hanging on to it a little to long. The resulting crisis can lead one to think that maybe they need to "grow up" and look into other more adult job opportunities. This film demonstrates that that isn't always the right choice for everyone and I like that a lot. Paramount's marketing team must have been a bit confounded by this one as they came up with a poster that misrepresents the film in a remarkably silly way.
THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976; Nicholas Gessner)
Rynn Jacobs (Jodie Foster) is a thirteen year old girl living in her father's home in a seaside town in Maine. She is visited by the grown son (Martin Sheen) of her older woman landlady and he, seeing that she is seemingly alone, makes some creepy (and obviously unwelcome) advances. It's unclear where her father is as she gives a few different reasons for his absence. The rest of the film, we continue to see her menaced by the landlady's son and the landlady herself as we attempt to figure out what is going on with this young girl. She sort of has a boyfriend (Scott Jacoby), and he stops by too. The movie is this neat combination of thriller, mystery, romance and some horror elements - which has perhaps helped make it stand out and have something of a cult following. The fact that the film begins on the eve of Halloween is a nice touch as well. The whole thing is kind of an elaborate game of 'hide and seek'. Jodie Foster showed such remarkable talent in her early years as an actor. Seeing her play a scene with a veteran like Martin Sheen - especially in a predatory role - is both mesmerizing and suspenseful. Scott Jacoby (who you will likely remember from the cult TV Movie BAD RONALD) was a very capable teen actor whose heyday was certainly the 1970s, though he continued to act into the 80s. This one was just recently released on Blu-ray and I recommend picking it up.
SHOOT (1976; Harvey Hart)
Highly engaging slow-burn drama. A fascinating & surreal mediation on violence and paranoia. One of my favorite ice-cold Cliff Robertson performances. Ernest Borgnine & Henry Silva deliver the goods as well. Very glad Paul Corupe originally turned me onto this one with his list of 2012 Discoveries:
BABY BLUE MARINE (1976; John D. Hancock)
One of my favorite Jan-Michael Vincent movies and one that very few people have seen due to lack of availability until a recent DVD release from Sony. Vincent plays a marine who flunks out of boot camp but is mistaken for a returning hero in a small town and goes along with it. He falls for a local girl there (the lovely and adorable Glynnis O'Connor) and is given the opportunity to prove himself. It's one Vincent's best performances and I heard about it from the DVD commentary on TAO OF STEVE of all places (they had a moment where they called out their favorite JMV movies).
ODE TO BILLY JOE (1976; Max Baer Jr.)
One of the better movies out there that was based on a song (in this case, a tune by Bobby Gentry). Also - another Glynnis O'Connor movie and it is this one, BABY BLUE MARINE, CALIFORNIA DREAMING, THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBBLE (also 1976) that cemented my lifelong crush on her. She and Robbie Benson are great together. They starred in JEREMY three years prior and were equally great. That movie is one of my favorite coming of age love stories of the 1970s and ODE TO BILLY JOE is an interesting companion piece to it. The movie was interestingly directed by Max Baer Jr. (who played 'Jethro' on the classic TV show The Beverly Hillbillies) and he does a solid job. He also did the excellent and equally underrated MACON COUNTY LINE.
SILVER STREAK (1976; Arthur Hiller)
Kind of a more comedic take on NORTH BY NORTHWEST from the writer of HAROLD AND MAUDE (Collin Higgins). Gene Wilder plays the Roger Thornhill-type role and Jill Clayburgh the Eva Marie Saint gal. This movie focuses on the train part and takes place almost exclusively there and I like that a lot. I've been trained over the years to romanticize train travel because of the movies and this one just makes me wanna hop a cross-country Amtrak for the weekend. Wilder is joined by his pal Richard Pryor which helps boost the comedy overall. The supporting cast is excellent too and includes folks like Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Ray Walston, Clifton James, Scatman Crothers, Richard Kiel and Fred Willard. Collin Higgins would dip his toe in more Hitchock water a few years later with FOUL PLAY.
DRIVE-IN (1976; Rod Amateau)
Enjoyable, slice-of-life comedy based in a small southern town - centering around the folks and their local drive-in theater. Such a delightful throwback and an affable goofy group of characters. Opens with a great Statler Brothers song too. From the director of one of my favorite TV movies - HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A.
KENNY & CO. (1976; Don Coscarelli)
One of Don Coscarelli's other movies (besides PHANTASM or BEASTMASTER) that folks don't talk about much these days. It follows a group of kids during the lead up to Halloween night for them. We follow our hero Kenny as he deals with adolescent issues like bullies and crushes on girls. His loyal sidekick is played by Michael Baldwin (who we all remember as the kid from PHANTASM) so their is a Coscarelli continuity here that I like. Also, it's just a treat to see youngsters and how they occupied themselves in the years before the internet and cell phones. Excellent coming of age fare. One day, I'd love to pair it with DAZED AND CONFUSED (or even the above-mentioned DRIVE-IN) as a 70s era double feature.
THE GUMBALL RALLY (1976; Chuck Bail)
An impromptu car race from coast to coast is the main focus here and it's a little like one of those IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD type deals. Great cast though including folks like Michael Sarrazin, Gary Busey, Nicholas Pryor, Raul Julia, Colleen Camp and Joanne Nail. A whole lot of fun and I actually prefer it to MAD MAD WORLD. I love the poster too and had it on my bedroom wall for years.
NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN (1976; Norman Tokar)
Underseen (if goofy) Live-action Disney flick with ties to some of their more famous films via the cast. This one has Disney stock company kids Kim Richards (ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN) and Brad Savage (THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG) as well as the great Don Knotts, David Niven, Darren McGavin and Vic Tayback. A couple youngsters get tangled up with some second rate safecrackers who owe a chunk of change to a gangster (Tayback). The young girl concocts a plan to ask for ransom from their wealthy granddad (Niven), but the whole arrangement goes slapsticky and silly. It's kinda dumb, but if you have some serious nostalgia for these old Disney Live action flicks, it might be just the ticket.