Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - James David Patrick ""

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Underrated '78 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong moviewatching habit. His current projects include #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project (thejamesbondsocialemediaproject.com) and Cinema Shame (cinemashame.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter at @007hertzrumble.

I initially thought this would be a short list. I have a lot of favorites from 1978, but none of them felt slept upon. "It'll be nice to toss this together in short order," I thought. Alas. By the time I'd given the list another pass, I wound up with this mismatched assortment of pleasant eccentricities from the year of my birth.


The Silent Partner (Daryl Duke, 1978)
A Santa Claus with a gun robs bank teller Miles at a bank in a Toronto mall. Instead of immediately alerting the police, Miles figures out how to pocket some of the cash for himself. When the suspect learns that he's been accused of stealing more money than he actually pocketed, he realizes he's been had and launches a campaign of violence and intimidation to retrieve the rest of the loot.

Wacko Christopher Plummer takes on Schleppy Elliott Gould, sociopathic bank robber vs. everyman bank teller. Only in the 1970's could a movie wander in and out of genres like stores in a mall. This gritty Canadian tax shelter production, written by Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys, L.A. Confidential), serves a twisty yarn with a killer payoff. Shocking flashes of gore and a bevy of nudity causes this to slip into exploitation territory. Crazy Chris Plummer stabs a fish and severs a head and that's not even the half of it.
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I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Robert Zemeckis, 1978)
I don't know if Robert Zemeckis' debut feature is underseen or underrated. It's modestly seen and generally rated, but I think there are still a large number of well-versed movie fans that believe Zemeckis' career began with Used Cars (1980).

One crazy day in the life of six teenagers who drive to New York City on the morning February 9, 1964 to witness the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Rosie and Grace worship the Beatles. Pam just wants exclusive pictures. Folk-music loving Janis believes the Beatles to be empty commercialism. So does Tony, for entirely different reasons. Larry just has a car. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale turn one of the most consecrated pop-culture moments into a study of fame, friendship, obsession, and the possibilities of future beyond high school.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand is at heart a teen comedy, but it's also an earnest love letter to a particular moment in time. Nancy Allen's terrific as the skeptical and button-up Pam, and it's her journey from Beatles immunity to attempted copulation with Paul's bass guitar that gives the film its emotional anchor as the insanity orbits the Ed Sullivan Theater.
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The Big Fix (Jeremy Kagan, 1978)
Ambling, organic-feeling detective tale starring Richard Dreyfuss as Moses Wine, a recovered 1960's activist turned jaded private eye who's trying to track down the author of a doctored, politically motivated flier. Deceptively small stakes turn big as Moses digs deeper and uncovers a disgusting political underbelly.

A great cast (Bonnie Bedelia, John Lithgow, F. Murray Abraham turn up in supporting roles) and paced direction and character development present a mystery that's as much about the actual whodunit as it is Moses Wine coming to terms with his own post-revolution disillusionment. This underseen gem in the Dreyfuss filmography might get overlooked since it dropped in theaters immediately after a run that featured Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and The Goodbye Girl (1977).
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The Bloodstained Shadow (Antonio Bido, 1978)
Antonio Bido's The Bloodstained Shadow (aka Solamente Nero) recalls Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture A Ducking in that in focuses on the crimes committed within an insular society. Where Fulci goes bombastic to unearth the message in his film, however, Bido peels back layers with tweezers.

Stefano visits his priest brother in the Venice laguna whom warns of a decadent community of evildoing and makes vague allusions to a medium. And because this is a giallo, Stefano then witnesses the strangulation of the medium by a killer (dressed in black, naturally). When Stefano investigates and uncovers the truth about a string of murders, he becomes a target for the murderer himself.

The Bloodstained Shadow has such awkward pacing that you'll forget for long stretches that what you're watching is supposed to be a horror film. Normally, I'd use that very same line as a complaint. In this instance, however, Bido so effectively deploys exotic cityscape cinematography an score (by Stelvio Cipriani and mixed and re-recorded by Goblin) that the languid pacing feels more like a strength. The film has plenty of other weaknesses, but it largely overcomes them by having a unique feel in an otherwise narrow genre bandwidth.
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Newsfront (Philip Noyce, 1978)
Low-key character dramedy about the post-war Australian newsreel cameramen and production staff chasing choice footage. Philip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games) cleverly intercuts actual newsreel footage to place the individual stories within historical context (between the years 1948 and 1956) as Australia undergoes a time of great of social and political upheaval.

Newsfront feels more like a technical achievement than a narrative. It's a wonderfully shot film that vacillates between color and black and white and provides a rich tapestry to showcase an A-list cast of Australian actors - Bill Hunter, Wendy Hughes, Bryan Brown, Gerard Kennedy among them. That the film fails to provide a satisfying conclusion feels almost irrelevant. It only seems fitting that as the dawn of TV arrives in 1956 Australia, the lives and stories of these intrepid reporters peter out as well. Some critics have called this the best Australian film ever made, and our ignorance of the film speaks to how little Newsfront has been seen outside the land down under.
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Go Tell the Spartans (Ted Post, 1978)
In the hands of someone other than Ted Post, Go Tell the Spartans might be mentioned among the great Vietnam War movies. If you want mechanical blocking and harsh lighting call Ted Post. If you want your violence untarnished by Hollywood flash and glam, call Ted Post. War is hell, told matter of factly - but not without a highly unique cinematic perspective.

As a result Go Tell the Spartans (based on Daniel Ford's 1967 novel Incident at Muc Wa) feels a little like tonal cousin TV's M*A*S*H, minus Hot Lips. What it does so well, however, is offer a perspective on the U.S.'s early involvement in the conflict. These aren't grizzled and disillusioned grunts humping through the jungle and/or screaming into the sky as Agent Orange rains down from the heavens and helicopters block out the sun. Led by Major Asa Barker (Burt Lancaster), these U.S. Army military advisers merely serve as an outpost for the South Vietnamese village Muc Wa. They represent the seeds of eventual disaster.

If you remember Go Tell the Spartans for no other reason, it'll be Burt Lancaster's nostalgic speech about the President walking into a room as he's getting a hummer from the general's wife as an explanation for his lackluster current station.
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Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (Ted Kotcheff, 1978)
Ted Kotcheff has such a bewildering filmography that whenever I hear his name I can't help but mention that the guy directed both First Blood and Weekend at Bernie's. It's a reflex. With Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? he's definitely operating on that Weekend at Bernie's spectrum, with a dose of Theatre of Blood mixed in.

Two of the world's greatest chefs have been killed, per the style of their own specialty. Robby (George Segal) and ex-wife/pastry chef (Jacqueline Bisset) head to Paris to round up all of the next greatest chefs to warn them about the murderer. The brilliant gag here is that obviously none of the chefs want to be murdered, but they all want to be next greatest chef in the world. It's all played broadly, but the absurd premise works practically as a satire of the culinary arts.

The murder mystery plays out predictably - you won't expend too much energy coming up with the solution (and the film devotes too much time to translucent red herrings) but you're engaged in the banter and sleuthing so it doesn't much matter. Plus the film serves up a cast that also contains the scene-stealing Robert Morley, Jean Rochefort, and Jean-Pierre Cassel. This is pure 1970's cinematic comfort food.
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