The Anderson Tapes 1971 A Movie A Day Day 91

I remembered this movie extremely well, even though I have not seen it for twenty years. The first time I saw it was on it’s release in 1971. Sean Connery appeared in his last “Official” Bond project the same year this came out (Diamonds are Forever). In this movie the character has none of the charm or sophistication of 007. Duke Anderson is a tough burglar, capable of violence but not really prone to it. There is a self righteous speech he gives to the psychologist at the prison on the day that he is released, that indicates he is angry and a bit of a sociopath. From the very beginning though, we see a pretty good relationship with a younger criminal and an old timer, that tells us that though he is a crook, he may not be a bad guy to know. I don’t think I saw many movies with my friend Mark Witt. We met at Margarita Elementary School in the 7th grade, and we were good friend until we graduated Alhambra High. I seem to recall going with him to the Alhambra Theater for this film. Although I remember the film quite well I am a little fuzzy on the circumstances.

Sidney Lumet is the director of this movie and he made several excellent crime films in the 1970s. Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico are the best known of these films, both are rightly celebrated. It is unfair that this movie does not have the same reputation. The actor’s roles are not as flashy, but the direction of the movie is taut and very much in keeping with the gritty atmosphere of other New York based crime films. Let me point out two illustrations of how this movie reflected a real New York early 70’s vibe. The police squad that is asked to enter the building that is the scene of the crime, is shown struggling to get across the rooftops of the building next door. Their climb up a wall is not smooth but rather quite labored. Garrett Morris, who later appeared on the original Saturday Night Live, plays the leader of the team. After he slides down the rope from one building to another, and lands on the roof, he looks down at his hands. The skin on his palms is torn, there is blood and obvious pain on his face. This is not some anonymous SWAT team, that mechanically does their jobs like perfectly programmed robots. These are guys struggling to do the best they can in the situation and not always rising up to the moment gracefully. Another example of the grit that Lumet adds to the movie is a short insert that has nothing to do with the story. I would be really surprised if it was even in the script. Two ambulance attendants are down on the police perimeter getting the ambulance ready if the police raid goes bad. One of them is replacing a pillowcase on a pillow in the ambulance. If you look quickly, you can see that the pillow has a big bloodstain on it. The case will cover that and make the pillow look fresh, but we all know that there is nothing clean and starched about what is going to happen. It’s a two or three second shot that tells you this is real.

This is Christopher Walken’s first adult role after being a juvenile actor on Broadway and TV. You can tell by watching him that there is something different and compelling about him as an actor. I already wrote that these were not flashy acting roles, this is an ensemble crime drama, but everyone adds some special touches. As they get released from prison, Walken’s character talks about wanting to just eat America up it is so great. He has a fun flair with that line. Martin Balsam is in this movie doing a gay character and the stereotyping is something that GLAAD would be all over today. Both Balsam and Connery are wearing toupees,but we are supposed to notice Balsam’s character has one on. Alan King plays a mob boss who is financing the teams elaborate holdup, I mentioned Garrett Morris already. Dyan Cannon, is once again the bombshell looker (or in this case hooker) that fills the female part, but it is a small role as well. It should be noted that there is some sexuality but no nudity. It was shot in the discrete style of the early seventies. If you compare it to Sidney Lumet’s last movie,”Before the Devil Knows You Are Dead” you will be amazed at the shift in cultural guidelines.

The story is told in a distinct style that in part explains the Title. This crime was being planned and many police agencies should have been able to figure that out. The mob boss is wiretapped by the IRS, the decorator is the subject of an FBI investigation on antique fencing, the girlfriend is being eavesdropped on by her client who hired private investigators to wiretap the apartment he provides her. The Kid played by Walken is being monitored by the Narcotics Bureau in NYC. Of course there is a lot of public electronic video as well. This movie was made in 1971, here we are today talking about some of the same privacy issues and now everybody is watching on-line. In my blog on “The Life of Brian”, you will find a link to a web cam at the Chinese Theater. You can look at Tommy Trojan 24 hours a day. So the premise of the story is we hear about all the set up through the surveillance that is going on. Pieces of the puzzle are brought together in an interesting way. The outcome is told in an equally interesting manner. We get a series of flashbacks from interviews done with the victims after the crime is over. Storytelling is very innovative and interesting in the screenplay and shooting of the movie.

All of this came out two years before we had heard of the Watergate Tapes and the famous 18 minute gap. When the feds doing illegal wiretaps here that the character played by Connery is on their tapes, they panic and start ordering the tapes be erased. This was really prophetic,given the way the Watergate investigation went down and the Oval Office tapes robbed Nixon of his legitimacy. Today, with digital recording, the information would end up in so many places, you could never be sure that it was all wiped out. The climax of the film involves a shootout, a brief car chase and crash and some mystery. It happens quick so pay close attention. If you are reading this blog because you are interested in 70’s films, you really should see this. It is not well known, but it has all the hallmarks of a classic 70’s heist picture. I suggest a double feature with this and the original “Taking of Pellham 123”, you will have a great afternoon or evening in the presence of real film makers.

Two Mules For Sister Sara 1970 A Movie A Day Day 90

Alright, one last Clint Eastwood picture before the end of the blog. Clint single handily kept the western alive in the 1970’s. Sure there were occasional westerns, but just about every year for the entire decade, there was a Clint Eastwood Western. He started off the decade of the seventies with this Spaghetti Style western, shot not by Sergio Leone, who had made him a star in his man with no name trilogy, but by his American director of choice, Don Siegel. This movie was also shot in the U.S. and Mexico, not in Europe. It has most of the same atmosphere as the Spaghetti Westerns, but with stronger film stock and actors whose lip movement matches the words they are producing. It also has a score by Ennio Morricone, who did the Leone westerns and turns in a nice theme that is irritating because it gets in your head and stays there. Allison did not care much for the “simulated”mule brays that are part of the tune, but I think they are a very nice touch to distinguish this music from some of the other scores that Morricone wrote.

Shirley Maclaine, is still working,and at the time this movie came out, I think she was top billed. When I was eight or nine I had a little crush on the red-headed girl that lived on the corner, Barbara Duffy. I saw this movie when it came out and I was 12, Shirlee Maclaine is cute as can be and very sexy. I never dated a woman with red hair but if Dolores wanted to go all Shirley red, I wouldn’t mind for a week or two. The opening scene is probably not supposed to be too sexy, after all the rotten cowboys are about to take advantage of the poor girl, but her red hair and fair skin being substantially exposed, is enough to imprint on a 12 year old. Her politics and personal life are not my cup of tea, but she is a terrific actress who has a very strong on screen persona. The match-up with Clint works very well. He has that steely eyed look, and she uses her pixie like demeanor to bring some warmth to a cowboy performance that would simply be an echo of earlier successes. His humor in the film is much more directed at sexuality issues than the violence that occurs.

For a mainstream, 1970 film, it is pretty violent. There is an execution scene in which the wall behind the prisoner is splattered with blood when the firing squad lets loose. In the big battle scene at the end there are several shots of the damage that might be done by a revolutionary wielding a machete. Although we do not see the human repercussions, this is another western from the time that uses the trope of attacking a train with dynamite. I must have seen that a dozen times in movies that came out from 1969 to 1976. Each film tries to give it a little bit of a twist, here it simply is a plot complication, rather than an integral part of the story. The most gruesome bit of business in the movie is the thing that I remembered best from seeing it the first time. Clint is shot with an arrow that does not come out the back. He has the Sister, carve a groove in the shaft, fill it with gunpowder and then as he lights the powder, she pounds the arrow through his shoulder and out the back. There was some tension, some humor and a little down home remedy all in this scene.

I saw this movie with my father in 1970. I am pretty sure it was just the two of us and I was probably the one who suggested the picture. I have a memory of it playing with a Gregory Peck film from the same period; either “The Chairman” or “Marooned”. I know I saw both of them, but I can’t quite remember which one was with this movie. I also think we saw this on the west side of L.A., maybe near Venice or the Airport. It isn’t of critical importance, it is just a little detail that is in my head and seems to be accurate. As far as I know, my Dad liked the picture. I was doomed to be an Eastwood fan after this. I don’t think I had seen any of his other movies before, so this is really my first memory of Clint. Probably not a bad bookend with Gran Torino, nearly forty years later.

These movies span the majority of my life, and they celebrate a transition in the way violence is portrayed. A western from the early days focused on the story, and violence was the tool of resolution for conflict. Today, a movie like Clint’s last starring performance, shows that violence is the story and what the consequences of that violence can be. Not all the movies that are made these days are infantile views of the world designed just for audience gratification. I do however have to say that I like me a little instant gratification from time to time. Modern revenge stories have replaced the western for the cathartic use of violence, but it is fun to go back and see how they did it in the old days of the cinema. Thanks Clint Eastwood, you have entertained me my entire life and your absence from the screen is a bitter pill that I have to swallow. Gene Hackman, Sean Connery, and Clint Eastwood have all retired from on-screen acting roles, and my world is a lot sadder for it.

The In-Laws 1979 A Movie A Day Day 89

Some movies have fantastic ideas and the premise lends itself to strong remakes. Most people don’t realize that “The Maltese Falcon”, perhaps the greatest example of hard-boiled detective film-making, was a remake. Humphrey Bogart was not the original Sam Spade, and he was not the first Sam Spade to go in search of the black bird. “A Star is Born” has been remade at least twice and both films were successful, the Judy Garland version is actually the one most people remember, although it is a remake. “King Kong” has been remade twice and while not the classic that the original was, the do overs have been solid. There are of course a lot of miserable failures when it comes to remakes; “Halloween”, “The Heartbreak Kid”, and “Psycho” are a few recent examples. A few years ago, Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks were featured in a re-make of today’s movie. It was critically lambasted and a box office dud. I can’t jump all over it because I never saw it. The reason I never saw it is that I had already seen the perfect realization of this movie. Michael Douglas is a fine actor, but he does not have the devil may care charm of Peter Falk. In casting Albert Brooks, they certainly were trying to find an appropriate sardonic replacement for Alan Arkin. Neither of these guys is replaceable, and their chemistry seems like it had to be unique.

The 1979 version of “The In-Laws” has a reputation among film buffs as one of the funniest films of all time. Mind you I said of all time, not just the 1970s. This reputation is well deserved and accurate because of the work of the two leads, and the brilliant script by Andrew Bergman. Bergman is a writer that has been very good (The Freshman) and very bad (Striptease). When he is on, it goes like a hurricane and this movie blows in a good way. There are aside comments that come from both leads that are better than anything in whole entire films.[On working for the CIA]
Vince Ricardo: Are you interested in joining? The benefits are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That’s really the key to the benefit program.][Sheldon: There’s no reason to shoot at me, I’m a dentist.] The story gets a little surreal when they arrive at the South American Island nation and the General in charge is nuts, but he has great lines too.

The premise is simple, the parents of the bride and groom are meeting for the first time, and the father of the groom, a CIA operative ends up dragging the father of the bride, a dentist, into a dangerous plot. Of course it is silly, but it is not slapstick type silly. They have funny lines, but they grow out of the situations and personalities of the two characters. This is not like a Naked Gun movie where it is joke,joke,joke,and joke; and then you hope that two thirds of them hit. This movie is funny because the people in the story are funny. Falk is the single-minded but also absent minded spy, who dangerously improvises his missions. Arkin, is a straight-man with the deadpan delivery that makes the lines he is given just kill.

As usual, there are a lot of supporting players in the movie that add to the film in ways that just help it along enough. James Hong, is an actor I may have mentioned before. If you see “Big Trouble in Little China” you will know him, he is also the sympathetic houseman in “Chinatown”. Here he has a small part as a charter plane operator, and all of his lines are in Chinese. Still Funny. David Paymer is an Academy Award Nominee, a guy everyone will recognize but few will be able to name. Paymer is a very young version of himself, playing a cab driver that takes good direction when tipped appropriately. Richard Libertini, had a part in another film written by Bergman, “Fletch”. In the “In-Laws” he is the dictator with unusual taste in art, and some really strange talent. This is the one place where things seem a bit over the top, but by that point, we are ready to follow these performers everywhere they want to take us.

I have seen the last half of this movie a half dozen times over the years. I don’t think I have seen the whole thing since the first time I saw it in theaters, until today. This is the third movie that I have done for the summer blog here that I watched on my ipod. I am running a bit low on the films in my stock for the blog, in fact I have only one left currently in my possession. So I have had to rent from itunes the last two days. I am running a little low on cash until the end of the month, but I think I have found a solution, and since we have only a week or so left we should be in good shape. I wish I had bought “The In-Laws”, the DVD it is currently available in has both versions of the film. I would be interested to make the direct comparison now, after having watched the original. Douglas and Brooks could not dodge the bullets shot at them from critics, maybe they just don’t know…Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!

Mr. Majestyk 1974 A Movie A Day Day 88

When Charles Bronson passed away a few years ago, I was sad to notice that it caused barely a ripple in the entertainment press. This was a guy that in the 1960s was in the three greatest action adventure films of the decade. No one else was in both “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Dirty Dozen”. In addition he was featured with his Magnificent Seven co-star Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape”. He was also in the Sergio Leone classic, “Once Upon a Time in the West”. So from an historical point he represented a connection to cinema history that was unparalleled at the time. In the 1970’s, Bronson was the go to action star of his day. Bruce Willis will have to make movies for another ten years to come close to the output of Bronson. He was the star of the controversial “Death Wish”, which was the focus of more media attention and press in 1974, then any of the so called cutting edge films of today. His passing was noted in a few small articles and a couple of clips. He deserved a retrospective on his career. That may actually be the next blog I start.

This is one of the many mid-level action films he made that populated my teen years. If “The Mechanic” had been a summer film, I would probably have done that film first. I knew the dialogue and plot down pat. I saw it dozens of times, Mr. Majestyk, I probably only saw three or four times. I have not revisited it since those days and it was a pretty good trip to take. The story concerns a melon farmer, who crosses paths with a contract killer, and he has to maneuver the police and the bad guys for the duration of the film. This movie has a high action content but it is not as violent as many of the other Bronson films of the seventies. There is a little bit of a migrant worker story, but you don’t get Charles Bronson to deliver a social message, you want someone to kick ass.

Al Letteri plays the killer. He is best known as Solozo, the drug importer than is the sparking point in “The Godfather”. He was a big, beefy looking guy with ethnic features and he seemed to get pigeon-holed into heavy parts. He also showed up in the Steve McQueen vehicle “The Getaway”. It is maybe somewhat a stretch because he delivers many of his lines with a speech impediment. He sounds like he has a heavy lisp. His character is after Bronson for personal reasons that stem from some of the events in the movie. Sometimes he seems single minded about getting even, and other times, it appears he is rushing to get it out of the way so he can move on. There is not a lot of consistency in the character. His girlfriend shows up but is barely a part of the story, and we wonder what would draw her to him in the first place. Steve Kolso, plays a local thug trying to strong arm Bronson into hiring his picking crews. This guy was in dozens of early 70’s movies, usually playing a sneaky bad guy. He plays one of the cops after Kowalski in Vanishing Point.

Most of the tough guy characters that Bronson played had some background that explained why they could be so badass. Mr. Majestyk is supposed to be a former Army Ranger and a Silver Star winner, he has drifted into Colorado, to become a watermelon farmer and all he is concerned about in the movie is getting his crop in. I remember seeing a Dirty Harry movie where killing his partner got him irritated but someone kicking his dog sets him off and the bad guys suffer more for the dog then anything else. Here there is a similar trauma, the thing that most sets off Bronson is the bad guys machine gunning his watermelon crop. That scene is the one thing I remembered best about this movie. The watermelons are exploding all over the warehouse and it just looked cool.Of course there will be a comeuppance. There are a lot of good chases through the mountains and pastures of the farms in the area. The crooks try to free the killer in an attack on the streets of a small town and all kinds of hell breaks loose. When Bronson finally takes a shotgun to the riff raff we are very satisfied with the outcome.

I made the comparison to Bruce Willis earlier. Bronson usually played stoic characters that had their own code. Today, the protagonist is full of quips and comebacks that sound like they could have been written for a sketch comedy show. There is only one such line in this movie, it is set up early on and then it makes up the final confrontation with one of the bad guys. In-between, we had very few lines from the star but plenty of star presense. Bronson made films up until just a few years before his death. They were never as great as the stuff that came out in the 1970’s, when Charlie Bronson ruled the matinees and deserved to be the big star that he was.

THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY 1978 A Movie A day Day 87

1978 was the height of the disco era. In the first three months of the year, the Bee Gees had five top ten songs in the same week. John Travolta was nominated for an Academy Award, and the music was everywhere. Dolores and I were going into our senior year of college and we loved going out, seeing movies, listening to music and eating well. We were not big party people, certainly not in the way people ask today if you party. We went to college parties and enjoyed ourselves but we never learned to dance, I did not drink and neither of us got high. So it is a little strange that we enjoyed this time in the country so much. We listened to Kiss in the car all the time, and went to concerts, but we could not be part of that “Death to Disco” crowd that sometimes came out, because as far as we were concerned it was innocuous fun. Today’s movie came out in that summer and I remember seeing it with my beautiful girlfriend, and we were almost certainly wearing polyester, even if we weren’t going dancing.

This is the movie that earned an Academy Award for disco music. “Last Dance” is a perfectly good disco song, and Donna Summer is always terrific. When we saw her at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, she was still great in her voice and the music always gets people up and moving even if they don’t dance. I hate however, that the finest composers of what was labeled “Disco” music, the Brothers Gibb, never received any Oscar mention. Their songs from “Saturday Night Fever” an excellent movie and THE soundtrack of the disco era were ruled ineligible because some elements of the music originated before the contract to do the movie soundtrack was signed. So, three months after the Academy gives it’s award for 1977 to the treacle Debbie Boone song, this movie came out. The next year the music guild in the Academy seemed to be trying to make good by giving an award to Paul Jabara’s song played at the end of the movie. It’s a good thing that most of the guild did not realize he also acted in this film. His role as Carl, the obnoxious near-sighted horn-dog that got locked in the stairwell, almost ruins the movie.

There is really not a plot to the movie, it takes place almost in real time, the hours between 10 pm and 12 am. There are several sets of people that end up at a flashy disco called “The Zoo”, and there are little stories behind each one. There are two teen girls trying to win a dance contest, two working girls out looking to find someone they can stand, an older married couple out on their anniversary, and two average guys looking to hook up. Throw in some wanna be singer subplot, a hot funk band, a sleazy club owner and a wiseguy DJ and you have a movie. I suspect that this was really a chance to sell a soundtrack. RSO records had the biggest selling soundtrack in the world with the “Fever” collection. Neil Bogart, the guy that brought us Kiss with his start-up record company, must have eyed that success and thought to himself, “Casablanca Records” can do that too. I never owned the soundtrack to TGIF, but I’m sure they made a bundle.

It is fun to see Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger in this movie. Neither was well known at the time, and now both have probably faded from the public eye a bit. Goldblum has always been a favorite around our house because if JAWS is our crack, then Jurassic Park is our catnip. Here he plays the disco owner, who apparently sleeps with half the women in the club. His goal this evening is to score with the straight married woman in order to win a bet. Terri Nunn, who later was the lead singer for Berlin, is one of the teen girls. Donna Summer plays, guess what, an aspiring singer. She is actually very good but of course best when the music starts and she is behind the mike.

The whole vibe of the movie is loose. It simply wants to entertain for a couple of hours and sell some music. There is a nice dance number in the parking lot that looks like it must have been pretty athletic to do. I could have lived without the computer dating couple. There is a fair amount of drug use in the movie, which makes it all the more revealing that this is a 1970’s film. The casual attitudes toward recreational drugs is reflected in a PG rating for the film. I don’t think the rating is wrong, but I do see how the world has changed in some of it’s attitudes. To me the best thing about the movie has always been that the reason the teen girls wanted to win the dance contest, was so they could buy Kiss tickets. Rock and Roll All Night you disco lovers.

THE WILBY CONSPIRACY 1975 A Movie A Day Day 86

THE WILBY CONSPIRACY Trailer – ARTISTdirect Music

This is an interesting movie for a number of historical reasons. The kids growing up today do not live in a world where the majority of the population of South Africa is subjected to harsh and repressive rules imposed by a minority of the population. Apartheid has been gone for almost twenty years now. Nelson Mandela is a revered world figure who served as President of his country after getting out of prison in that same country. Last year the movie Invictus, told the story of South Africa ultimately embracing it’s largely white rugby team in a story of reunification. It was a beautiful ideal, but the movie failed in part because it seemed political and most of the young audience today was not exposed to the brutality that existed in South Africa before they were born. They largely lack a context.

The Wilby Conspiracy, provides a kind of context. It is a fictional action story but it is set in a very realistically portrayed 1970’s South Africa. In those days, a black man needed a pass to be on the streets, the blacks were largely limited to “reservation” style tribal lands to live. The power of the police to detain, imprison and even kill was unchallenged. Civil disobedience, violence, worldwide political pressure, and finally the inability of those in power to stomach what would be required to keep the system, lead to it’s downfall. Wilby is set before the death of activist Steven Bikko, and the revelations that accompanied his death. Sidney Pointier plays a convicted rebel, for whom charges are being dropped after being imprisoned for ten years. His lawyer is a woman that champions reform in South Africa, and she has a boyfriend as she is separated from her husband. The new boyfriend is played by Michael Caine. As the three of them are leaving the prison, police checking passes assault them on the streets and suddenly they find themselves on the run. It turns into a mismatched buddy picture without the humor and instead, surrounded by intrigue and betrayal.

There are many examples of the injustices that people in South Africa suffered illustrated in the movie. The suppression of classes extends to the large Indian community in S.Africa as well. Saeed Jaffry plays an Indian dentist that is involved with the revolutionaries. This same year he co-starred with Michael Caine again in the “Man Who Would Be King”. He is good in both performances, but I have loved the Man Who Would Be King for 35 years and Billy Fish is one of the reasons. His associate in this movie is played by Persis Khambatta, the actress featured in the first Star Trek Movie (She has a shaved head there). She later co-stars with Rutger Hauer in Nighthawks, Hauer is in this movie as the pilot ex-husband of Caine’s girlfriend lawyer. (Got all that?) By the way, Caine and Hauer are also in the cast together in Batman Begins. This movie is it’s own little Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Nicol Williamson, plays the security officer in charge of exploiting the situation to recover lost treasure, or at least that is what it seems.

There are some good lines in the movie and a few solid action scenes. The South African security forces are as villainous as you would expect. Williamson’s second in command is a sadistic racist in a position of power that he enjoys exploiting. After humiliating the lawyer with a physical search by a doctor, he uses the notion of an even deeper search as a motivation to break her. The gleam in his eye as he suggests a more painful repeat of a body cavity search is disgusting. If this movie were made five years later, the retribution he receives would have been visualized in a more satisfying manner. Here it is simply conventional. Williamson also deserved different, but I don’t want to give too much away. I once gave an extemporaneous speech on Apartheid, defending the Afrikaner position. I was looking to be distinct in the round and hoping to move into another elimination round (it did not work). I must say that I can’t disagree with the judges, that it was hard to defend that point of view. I’m sorry I did it, because it really was indefensible. There are double crosses and hidden agendas in the movie throughout it’s run. The action used in the final confrontation is visually interesting, but logically stupid.

I think Art and I saw this movie at the Temple Theater, but it could have been the Alhambra. I’m sure it was a double bill but I can’t remember what the other feature could have been. This movie is largely forgotten, as illustrated by the fact that the only video on line for it is a TV promo. The trailer on the DVD does a good job of selling this as an action picture. That is not a misleading sales pitch, but the movie was more politically charged and that is missing to a large degree. Oh yeah, there is one really big laugh right at the end of the movie. The usual disclaimer appears saying that this is a work of fiction and does not represent true events in South Africa. I can just hear 18 million black South Africans roaring at that line.

Apocalypse Now 1979 A Movie A Day Day 85


I put his movie off till the end for a couple of reasons; first it has always been difficult to watch because of the hyper psychedelic style it is shot in, and second because my opinion on it changes much like my opinion on Rollerball. Each time I see the movie I have a different impression of it’s strengths and weaknesses. I am not sure my comments will be consistent, but they will be honest. There is in fact much to be admired about the film from a technical point of view but the story seems so weighted against American action in Vietnam, that it is difficult to judge outside of the political issues that surround it. Francis Ford Coppola was the greatest film maker of the 1970’s. He wrote the Oscar winning screenplay for Patton, he directed the Godfather (considered by many as the greatest film ever made), he co-wrote and directed the Godfather Part 2 (The Greatest Film ever made), wrote and directed the Best picture Nominee, the Conversation, and produced American Graffiti, as well as just about everything on this movie. That is a ten year streak that has not been matched by anyone when it comes to quality. In that context I can render a largely favorable opinion of the movie.

Apocalypse Now opened in the Summer of 1979 at the Cinerama Dome, in an exclusive engagement. One thing that I recall about how exclusive it was is that there were no on-screen credits shown for the movie, not even a title card. The credits were provided to the audience on a brochure that you received in the theater. I can’t recall who went with me that first time, it may have been Rusty, my Dad’s friend that I have mentioned before. My memory of the second time I saw the movie was much more vivid. Rick Rollino and I had gone Christmas shopping and we were at the Del Almo Mall down in the South Bay. It had been a long day and I think originally we went in to see “10”, and maybe we did, but I know we also saw Apocalypse just a day or two before Christmas and I thought it was sort of a strange way to spend a day that close to the holiday. As I recall, our reaction to the movie was very strong and positive at the time. Rick if you read this, maybe you could comment on your memory here.

There are so many beautiful and horrifying moments in the film, that it overcomes some of the pretentiousness it falls into at the end. The opening double exposure of the helicopters and the ceiling fan in Captain Willard’s Saigon hotel room is brilliant. The attack on the village by the air cavalry, accompanied by Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyrie is spectacular and thrilling in a way that may not have been intended. Robert Duvall is in the movie for fifteen minutes and steals the whole picture. When the Wagner music is playing and the helicopters are attacking, it is really stirring, war with a soundtrack is another one of those clever twists that made the movie distinct. Right after that scene is when things start to go awry. The USO show is shot very effectively and the mayhem and imagery of the lights against the dark of the night and the water is magnetic. The problem is that this is where the ambiguous messages start to get a be pompous. The V.C. idea of a USO show is a cold bowl of rice? The immediate implication is that we are too weak in comparison to have ever had a chance to win. John Milius co-wrote the screenplay, and he may well have contributed to the Nietzsche philosophy lesson. Later when Willard is looking at Kurtz’s journal, he comes across the phrase “Drop the Bomb, eliminate them all”. If this is an anti-war movie, I guess the strategy is to show that war has to be so ruthless that it can never be waged. Of course that is a lot clearer than what happens in the last forty-five minutes of the picture.

From the time the Captain’s boat arrives at the Colonel’s camp, until the final resolution, we have an acid trip masquerading as a screenplay. Part of the problem was apparently Marlon Brando showed up so far overweight and so under prepared, that they have to shoot him in half light most of the time and he makes up a lot of the dialogue. Dennis Hopper shows up and was clearly spaced out, and his frenzied improvisational lines are probably quoted by fans of this film in a geek like manner similar to our quoting JAWS or Star Wars. The killing of the water buffalo in these scenes is reportedly real. which makes all the dead bodies and dismembered limbs in the background more disgusting than horrifying. As I listened to the music in the third act, I was reminded of the modern symphony music we heard at Disney concert hall a few years ago. As part of the “Tristan” project, a multi-media presentation accompanied the bleak music, and it sounded like a sustained violin note with images of fog in the background for twenty minutes. This was one of the first movies to use synthesizers for the majority of the score. I looked and the music was done by the director’s father, an accomplished musician, but Francis is given a co-credit on the music and my guess is that the repetitive two note bass is his contribution.

I watched this on my laserdisc player and the images were quite good. I imagine the DVD versions are superior to even this. The movie was re-edited for a different version several years ago and called Apocalypse Now Redux. Unlike Lucas with his tinkering on the Star Wars film, Coppola is not claiming this is a definitive version, but just an alternate take on the film. I have yet to see it so maybe a future post will make some comparisons. I am a little worried because my disc player was very temperamental in trying to run this movie. I don’t want to pack all my discs up and turn them into crap in the garage, but if I can’t keep the player working, I will have to, or try and find a new player. If my laserdisc give out, at least we had one last harrah with a brilliant mess of a movie.