It's always fun this time of year when we start to get into the 70s stuff. I love the underrated 80s lists, but the underrated 70s might be my favorite group. In just scanning through a list of titles from 1978, I was reminded just how much good cinema was produced then and just how much of it doesn't get the love it deserves. Here are a handful of my favorite underseen films from that year:
THE END (1978; Burt Reynolds)
Only Burt Reynolds' second feature as a director (after GATOR - the sequel to WHITE LIGHTNING), and he already shows a great maturity on some level in terms of managing a very tricky tonal balance in this heartfelt dramedy about coping with one's own mortality and thoughts of suicide. Burt plays a successful real estate agent who finds out (in an oddly humorous scene) that he has about six months to live. He begins to take stock of his life - goes to see his somewhat estranged daughter and his ex-wife as well as some friends to get his bearings. He ends up in a mental institution at one point and he is befriended by a helpful weirdo (Dom Deluise) who would love to assist in Burt's suicide (and they make several attempts to do so). As I said, it's an odd mix of things in terms of the sensibility, but I feel like Burt pulls it off through solid direction and his immeasurable charm and charisma.
THE SILENT PARTNER (1978; Daryl Duke)
Sporting an adapted screenplay from the late great Curtis Hanson, this unique and gritty little thriller stars Elliott Gould as a bank teller who anticipates a robbery and is able to stash away some of the cash for himself beforehand so he can write it off as part of the larceny. Of course, when the thief (a very psychotic Christopher Plummer) hears on the news a much higher dollar amount than he actually got, he becomes suspicious that he's been had and begins stalking Gould. This one goes pretty dark and Susannah York gets involved as well. It's a really solid, twisty little film though and one that has some great performances from the leads and even includes a small role for a young Canadian actor named John Candy. From the director of the amazing PAYDAY.
BIG WEDNESDAY (1978; John Milius)
I still love the story I heard once about John Milius discovering Kurosawa while surfing in Hawaii. I guess I'm also just amused by the idea that John Milius is a surfer. He clearly does have much love for the practice of riding waves though and he has crafted an amazing and epic coming of age tale about three surfing friends and how their lives changed from the mid 1960s through the early 1970s. There is an obvious loss of innocence there just in terms of the United States getting into Vietnam and how that affected the country and its youth. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be drafted into the military at this time and the draft itself actually plays a major role film. But essentially what Milius has done is create this remarkable personal tapestry that combines some probable autobiographical details with a sense of Howard Hawks as well as John Ford's mythologizing-of-the-past-type storytelling to make a unique and powerful movie. It is both funny and serious. Heartfelt and sad, but truly memorable. Apparently Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan of this one and has been quoted as saying that "Surfers don't deserve a movie this good" - which leads me to wonder what kind of dealings he's had with surfers in his life. That said, he's probably correct.
THE BRINK'S JOB (1978; William Friedkin)
SORCERER is an outstanding underrated effort from William Friedkin that has started to get some recognition after years of neglect, but the same cannot be said for his next movie, THE BRINK'S JOB. Sure, it's a comedic story, so it will be seen as a bit slighter than the harrowing thrills that SORCERER doles out - but it is nonetheless a very good little movie. It's based on the real armed robbery of the Brink's building in Boston that took place on January 17th, 1950 and you couldn't ask for a better cast to carry it off. Peter Falk headlines, with Peter Boyle, Warren Oates, Allen Garfield, Gena Rowlands and Paul Sorvino in tow. One of those affable loser criminal underdogs kind of things and it's a real good time.
REMEMBER MY NAME (1978; Alan Rudolph)
One of the best films from the 1970s that is still not commercially available on home video for one reason or another. Excellent ensemble includes Geraldine Chaplin, Anthony Perkins, Jeff Goldblum, Tim Thomerson, Alfre Woodard and Dennis Franz among others. The focus here is on a woman, recently released from prison (Chaplin), who begins mysteriously stalking a construction worker (Perkins). I won't say much more than that as the beauty of this one is in the watching of it. I mention it here as to do any small bit to push the powers that be that control the rights to put it out (please!).
THE ONE AND ONLY (1978; Carl Reiner)
One of my favorite almost-never-talked-about comedy/drama's of the 1970s and that is quite strange considering it was directed by Carl Reiner and the main performance by Henry Winkler is nothing short of inspired. He plays a college acting student who believes himself to be a little better and more important than he really is. Despite (or because of) his larger than life personality, he is able to win over a girl he takes a liking to (Kim Darby), but after they get out of school - he finds it difficult to find work as an actor. Out of this problem, he ends up going into wrestling and "invents" the show wrestling that would later become the mainstay of the sport. It's really and odd little film, but Winkler is so committed to this character and the roles that said character takes on that he really keeps everything afloat, even when it gets more dire than one might expect from the outset. Really underrated and under-loved.
THE BIG FIX (1978; Jeremy Kagan)
Considering Richard Dreyfuss' popularity post JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, it's a wonder to me that this one is better known as he is very good in it. He plays a detective named Moses Wine (perfect name). He's an ex-activist/hippy kind of guy, but he's past that time in his life and now is divorced and has kids and is just trying to get by (often bringing them with him when he's working on new cases). He gets pulled into a new mystery that involves the death of an old friend from his radical days and the plot just thickens and thickens. It's no CHINATOWN or anything, but it is a wonderful display for the likability talent that Dreyfuss was just bursting with around this time. I can only think that a lack of availability for a number of years pushed this one out of sight and out of mind. Well worth tracking down. I actually talked all about this one on an Episode of the Forgotten Filmcast a while back:
AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (1978; George Schaefer)
One of the most underrated and underseen Steve McQueen films and that's a shame considering his performance. Here, he plays a small village doctor who's brother the mayor (Charles Durning) has gotten him a better position via his position and influence. When McQueen finds that the medicinal springs that the town has made it's main financial draw are actually poisoned with huge amounts of bacteria from the water supply flowing into them (due to a money saving measures as to where the springs were built), he is forced to basically go to war with his brother and the whole town to stand by his convictions and go against knowingly causing harm and sickness to others. The film is a slow and emotional build of tension and certainly plays as hauntingly and frighteningly well today as it did when it came out.
HOT LEAD AND COLD FEET (1978; Robert Butler)
Might feel like standard Disney live-action fare today, but to me as a kid, this movie was an big favorite and a blast to watch because it involved a race/contest and I loved that sort of thing. The competition in question is for the ownership of a small rural western town that was built up by an old man who has apparently passed away and called for his two sons (one good and one evil) to come back and compete for the rights to the little village. In a pretty funny turn, actor Jim Dale plays the roles of the aging father AND both of the brothers (another thing that I certainly was drawn to as a youth). Of course the movie is bolstered some great supporting business from the likes of Don Knotts, Jack Elam and Darren McGavin (all of whom I appreciate much more now than I did then). Silly and wacky Disney western comedy on a grand scale that they don't do anymore for this type of thing. I miss Don Knotts.
HIGH-BALLIN' (1978; Peter Carter)
Tangential connection to Burt here with this Jerry Reed/Peter Fonda vehicle that feels like a knockoff of WHITE LINE FEVER with a little of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT thrown in. Fun and action-y trucker film - apparently also known as "CONVOY II"? Jerry Reed sings the rockin' theme song: