Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '77 - Hal Horn ""

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Underrated '77 - Hal Horn

Hal Horn runs the irreplaceable Horn Section Blog ('reviewing the obscure, overlooked and sometimes the very old').

One year after their near miss in the California League as an expansion team, the Bears are back sans Coach Buttermaker and female pitching prodigy Amanda Wurlitzer. After running off a militaristic new coach (Dolph Sweet), a trip to play in the Astrodome to face the Texas champion Houston Toros is in jeopardy. Slugging outfielder Kelly Leak comes to the rescue, with new pitcher Carmen Ronzoni (Jimmy Baio), a stolen van, and a hidden agenda: Kelly's estranged father Mike (William Devane) lives in Houston.

Continuity sticklers will note right away that the Bears aren't the reigning "California champions"; in fact, they finished second in their league. But who cares? The Bears were living every pre-teen boy's fantasy in 1977: a completely unsupervised trip across three state lines in a van, with a ballgame in the coolest stadium in America at the end of the rainbow. With NO punishment afterward! Yeah, you had to be there, but this one is outrageous fun, and you could make a strong case that Mike Leak is a better coach than Buttermaker, who had finished product Amanda as his pitcher. Mike Leak inherits hapless Ronzoni, and promptly fixes his problems in less than a minute, sans montage! Great, implausible fun. Written by Paul Brickman (RISKY BUSINESS)
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Steve Guttenberg and Branscombe Richmond are wiseass high school seniors working in Phil Silvers' chicken joint as they await graduation with the rest of the Class of 1969. Although Guttenberg is a popular track star with a cheerleader girlfriend, he has a big problem to solve. Yes, bigger than avoiding Vietnam--he's still a virgin. Sort of a PG HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS, anticipating where coming of age films were headed, with a handful of grossout gags, a serious Vietnam subplot, and a lot of pranks. The two leads would go on to bigger and better things, veteran character actors Silvers and Ed Lauter (playing the principal, of course) help a great deal, and this is one of your few chances to catch Kutee (RIGHTEOUS APPLES), who really should have had a bigger career herself. Written by Paul Diamond, son of I.A.L.
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Precious few things in this world are funnier than a vanity project that gets out of hand. The final film directed by veteran Gordon Douglas (BARQUERO), VIVA KNIEVEL remains one of the funniest, the iconic daredevil’s answer to George Hamilton’s portrayal of him in the eponymous 1971 bio. Yes, Hamilton is the better cinematic Evel by far, but he’s nowhere near as saintly as this film’s version. We open with Evel sneaking into an orphanage in the dead of night to deliver gifts: Evel Knievel action figures—absolutely free! In between executing his death-defying stunts, the kindly Mr. Knievel finds time to bring his alcoholic mechanic and the loyal worker’s son together, and to thwart the evil (not Evel) plans of drug lord Leslie Nielsen. Yes, it’s a must-see, even if you aren’t familiar with the legendary jumper of the Snake River Canyon. Lights-out supporting cast also features Gene Kelly, Lauren Hutton, Red Buttons, Dabney Coleman and Marjoe Gortner!
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Also written by Paul Brickman, giving him two underrateds this year. Interstate trucker Napier (handle: Chrome Angel) has an accident while hauling cattle during a rainstorm in rural Nebraska. Napier's S.O.S. is answered by LeMat (handle: Spider), a local CB repairman and R.E.A.C.T. volunteer. LeMat's pet peeve is frivolous use of Channel 9 but his do-gooding isn't limited to public causes. He also buffers tension between his brother McGill (handle: Blood) and their aging father Blossom (handle: Papa Thermodyne) who literally lives for his cherished time on the airwaves. That's just the beginning of the complications that ensue in his early gem from Jonathan Demme (MELVIN AND HOWARD). Misleadingly marketed as hicksploitation, this one has aged well. The similarity between anonymity behind "handles" then and screen names now is unmistakable.
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Privileged teenager Kathleen Quinlan lands in a mental institution after a failed suicide attempt. Quinlan is diagnosed as a borderline schizophrenic, and despite the hostile environment eventually finds sympathetic doctor Bibi Andersson, who helps her through the healing process. Not a pleasant viewing experience by any means, but strangely forgotten despite a wonderful, Golden Globe-nominated performance by the underappreciated Quinlan (BREAKDOWN). From Joanne Greenberg's 1964 novel. Mel Gibson's debut. Directed by Anthony Page (THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER).
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