Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Kerry Fristoe ""

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Underrated '76 - Kerry Fristoe

Ah, 1976.  Bicentennial mania ruled the day.  I, unlike many of you, was actually alive in 1976 and old enough to remember the patriotic fervor.  People covered everything they could catch in red, white, and blue.  They ate bicentennial corn flakes, bathed with bicentennial soap, and watched Bicentennial Minutes on TV.  I’m from Massachusetts, so I went on historic tours, watched reenactments, and celebrated our independence pretty much every year, but 1976 was special.  It was a big deal.  I digress.  Here’s a list of small, yet memorable films from that historic year.  
The great Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson), struggles to keep his sanity amid cocaine-induced delusions and a puzzling case.  Fearing for his friend, Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) tricks Holmes into going with him to Vienna to visit Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) for therapy and an end to his addiction.  Into this crisis enters the lovely actress Lola Devereaux (Vanessa Redgrave) who may be in great danger.  

Will Watson get Holmes to Vienna safely and will Holmes consent to Freud’s methods?  Who is at the center of Holmes’ anguish and will he solve the case of the missing actress?  

THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION is an excellent film that has everything.  The intelligent dialogue and convincing performances work a treat.  You feel for Holmes while respecting his huge intellect.  Arkin and Duvall are wonderful, as always, and the cast of Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray, Joel Grey, and Jeremy Kemp flesh out the complex story.  It’s an action-packed and thoughtful film.  Also, I’ll watch anything Nicol Williamson does just to hear him speak.  That voice!

H.G. Wells wrote THE TIME MACHINE, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, and many other brilliant and prophetic stories.  Bert I. Gordon made a movie about large chickens attacking Ida Lupino.  MarjoeGortner, who can never quite handle the hero thing due to his excessive creepiness, stumbles upon big wasps, rats, grub worms, and chickens on a remote Canadian island.  Ralph Meeker (Ralph, I expected so much more from you.)Lupino, and Pamela Franklin co-star in this ecological nightmare film.  Is it good?  No, it’s not.  Is it fun to watch?  Yes.

Woody Allen’s sentimental tribute to those blackballed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, THE FRONT tells the story of Howard Prince (Allen).  Prince is a bookie who helps his blacklisted writer friends by turning in their scripts as his own for a cut of the proceeds.  He’s not a political guy.  He’s just doing it for his pals and to make a buck.  As he sees the effect the HUAC has on his friends, he begins to question his own values.  THE FRONT is a small, subtle picture full of lovely performances.  Michael Murphy, Herscel Bernardi, and Andrea Marcovicci all perform wonderfully and Josef Sommer is terrific as the cold HUAC chairman.  The standout in this cast is Zero Mostel.   As stand-up comic Hecky BrownMostel steals the show.  He manages to be funny, sweet, and bewildered by his situation.  His character more than any other, shows the horror of the government’s witch hunts.  It’s a beautiful role.  Another cool thing about THE FRONT is that many of the cast and crew were blacklisted.  Director, Martin Ritt, writer, Walter Bernstein, and actors Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi were among them.  I recommend the film highly.

GRIZZLY is JAWS on a mountain.  It’s also one of the better THEM!/JAWS inspired films.  Christopher George, Andrew Prine, and Richard Jaeckel star in this film about a rogue grizzly bear who runs amok and chows down some campers at a national park.  Jaeckel definitely plays Quint, but George and Prine take turns in the Hooper and Brody roles.  It’s a fun entry in the JAWS copycat competition.  
Note: The giant grizzly with an appetite for hikers was not a grizzly at all.  He was Teddy, a Kodiak bear.

Rudy Ray Moore reprises the role he created in DOLEMITE asDolemite, a stand-up comedian who runs afoul of a bigoted sheriff by fooling around with his wife.  He takes off to California with his crew to visit his club/brothel only to find a mob-connected nightclub owner threatening his business and his friends.  Dolemite and his pals fight the mob, save some kidnapped women, and just generally kick ass in this fun blaxploitation film.  Moore has loads of charisma and greatcomedy chops.  His Don Rickles-style insult comic routine is hysterical and he even sings a couple songs.  The action sequences are terrific too.  If you miss the 1970s, check out this film.  It’s a lot of fun.  Look for Ernie Hudson as one of Dolemite’s cohorts.

You know when you promise to pick up your friend’s daughter at the airport and she’s a nun in a satanic cult led by Christopher Lee and the sect gets annoyed that you won’t give her back and they kill everyone you know?  This film is like that.  Richard Widmark stars as a writer specializing in the occult who tries to save Nastassja Kinski from devil-worshippers who want her to act as the devil’s proxy.  While nowhere near as good as Hammer’s earlier THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER still satisfies your Christopher Lee/Satan jones.  Denholm Elliott also stars as Kinski’s wussy dad who just might have sold his kid’s soul to the devil.  Tsk tsk.  

1 comment:

Barry P. said...

Nice list, Kerry! This reminds me I have to get off of my virtual butt and watch Grizzly. It's on Hulu, so I have no excuse. I agree with your comments about To The Devil a Daughter. Pickings from the Hammer camp were pretty slim by this point, but this does have its moments.

Like you, I remember the bicentennial fervor of that year, although I was only 8 at the time. I think my deepest regret in '76 was not getting the second part of a 2-part Ronald McDonald comic book (oh, how times have changed).