Mother, Jugs & Speed 1976 A Movie A Day Day 70

I picked this movie for today because I just heard from by best friend in college, Dan Hasegawa, and he is in town for a couple of days. We are going to have dinner with him tonight and catch up a bit. I have not seen Dan in 12 years or so and I have not talked with him for about 18 months. He and I saw a lot of movies together while we were both in college and even after I was married, we had time during the day to see films because I taught part-time at night. We saw this movie together when it first played in theaters back in 1976, we saw it on the big screen in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theater. I’m not sure why except sometimes Hollywood was the only place a film would play for a time so maybe we saw it early in it’s run. It was promoted like an irreverent comedy with personality plus. I think that is a little misleading. There is quite a bit of humor but it is frequently offset by grim circumstances and some unpleasant characters. I did not care for it much when we first saw it and after today’s viewing my position is only slightly less negative.

There are several things going for the movie that ought to make it sing a lot more. For instance it is set in Los Angeles, my city of choice for school and social activities, but you never get much sense of the place. The ambulance crews do not seem to work in one specific neighborhood or with any particular group of people. Part of the drama ends up being about how these guys need to function without feeling too much for the people that they cannot help. The problem with that is there is very little drama if everyone is detached. Harvey Kietel is third billed and his character is supposed to be a suspended police officer. At first it seems that he is the one that will bring some conscience to the group, but not much comes out of that. Bill Cosby is supposed to be the mother hen of the band of pirate ambulance drivers but there is very little to distinguish him from anyone else on the staff. He does not really come across as sympathetic. I loved Bill Cosby albums,and his stand up routine. As a comedian he is fine, but as an actor he just seems a little flat. Sometimes he mugs for the camera, but other then the familiar smart ass grin he gives in the funny scenes, his dramatic expression is blank faced. I think he worked on television better because as a weekly visitor to our homes we get a chance to know the quirks of the character and get used to the way he communicates. Here and in other movies, he just seems to be forcing it or underplaying so much that it doesn’t work. His character is underwritten so that he can riff on the part, which should work for a comedian like him, but the story needs a bit more focus and he fails to provide it.

Raquel Welch was never a great actress, but she was good for the roles she was given. She is also lovely to look at but her moniker in this film is only hinted at, there are no sexy shots of her and she is pretty much playing it straight. As a crusading woman seeking equality in the workplace, the character is actually pretty representative of issues that women might have faced in the work environment. She has a love affair with Kietel that needs a little more development. He is almost wasted in the part, but he does have a couple of good scenes and the comic part he plays in Raquel’s first ambulance chase is actually a strong motivation for her to overcome her previous ambivalence. Larry Hagman is in the film as a bad guy but he is supposed to be a comic bad guy. Unfortunately he turns out to be a rapist and a potential murderer under the influence of alcohol. He is actually the best performer in his role in the film, but it is not the lead, he disappears for most of the second act, and he is a lousy human being. I remember one thing from the first time I saw the movie that always disturbed me. Hagman basically sexually assaults a comatose coed in the back of the ambulance and it was sort of played for laughs, but I found it disgusting and it was one of the sad things about the movie that turned me off of it.

Bruce Davison from Willard and X-Men, is Mother’s first partner, his story is over too quickly. Dick Butkiss is in the background of the movie but barely has any lines, none that are funny and he does nothing in the story. Allen Garfield, has been in a ton of stuff over the years, he was in the Candidate a couple of weeks ago. Here he is the owner of the ambulance company and he is sometimes funny, sometimes obnoxious and sometimes sympathetic. His opening take on the “Patton” type introduction is very effective and they used it in the trailers. L.Q. Jones plays a corrupt sheriff’s officer that gets kickbacks for tipping off the ambulance company. He needs to have more to do in the story because there is a lot of charm in his voice and manner, but the part could have been done by anyone.

I hate to dump on Tom Mankiewicz, who we lost just a week ago and who Amanda and I saw last year at the Bond festival, but he is a producer and screenwriter for this movie and it is underwritten. The Director was Peter Yates who did “The Deep” that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago as well. This movie feels like a shaggy dog story that needed to be developed more as a dramatic piece and tightened when it came to the humor. The trailer makes it a much funnier film, so if the editor of the coming attractions can see what is worthwhile in the picture, it befuddles me why the screenwriter and director could not. The actors are a little lazy in their performances and the action is too random to keep us very interested. This is a movie that needed to decide what it wanted to be and then pushed in that direction. As it is it seems aimless.

Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings 1976 A Movie A Day Day 69

We are back from the wilds of the U.S. northernmost state a place of great beauty and bountiful resources. I’d like to thank my padwan learner for taking over while we were gone. I checked in on line several times and enjoyed the posts at 75cents a minute. This is a good reason for her to take over, as slow as I type if I had tried to do the posts from the boat, I’d have spent as much as I did sending her to U.S.C.. It also helps that she did a bang up job on the movies she watched. You can check the comments sections for additional info, I’m sure you all enjoyed them as much as I did.

Today, Lando Calrissian faces down Darth Vader a year before either of them appeared in the Star Wars movies. This showdown tales place right at the start of this movie and you know these two will be the featured stars of the film from the dialogue and set up we get in the first couple of minutes. This movie is set in 1939, before World War II, before the breaking of the color barrier in baseball and well into the depression era. The times were politically charged and there is a strong socialist theme underlying some of the motivations of the ballplayers. The only way that it works though is if they are entrepreneurs and take some risks in order to get a profit. I guess that undercuts the revolutionary talk in the movie, this is really a story about how a group of oppressed people take charge of their own lives and try to make it work the old fashioned way, by building a better mousetrap.

It has been a number of years since I saw the movie but I remembered most of it pretty well. There are good guys and bad guys, tight scrapes, a old time car chase, and some fun baseball shenanigans for everybody. The actors are solid for the parts that they play except on the diamond. James Earl Jones looks like a ballplayer from the times but he can’t really swing the bat convincingly. Lando, I mean Billy Dee Williams, is the All Star Pitcher, but there is nothing intimidating about him or his pitching style. He is our hero, the one with the chip on his shoulder that inspires the others to band together to form a barnstorming baseball team to compete with the owners of the negro league teams that they all come from. The Negro leagues had some of the finest players in the history of the game and it is a shame that it took so long for this country to grow up in regard to race. 71 years ago a black man could not play professional baseball with white men. Today, the President of the United States still can’t play baseball, but that is because he is a basketball player, not because he is black.

The struggles of the characters against not only economic strife and racism, but against a group of owners that treated their teams like sharecroppers. I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of the black owners is, but it helps make the film more accessible because it is injustice that the players are fighting against, not simply another race. The owners scheme to break up the all-stars as a threat to their power, and insensitive bigots take advantage of their racial power to cheat the team. At each juncture, the team comes up with creative solutions and makes a go of their enterprise as best they can. The two leads represent the moral conscience of their situation and are usually in agreement. The final breakdown of the team before it’s resurrection, occurs because one of the leads will not tolerate theft, as justified as it might appear to have been. In the end there is a reconciliation because they face a bigger common enemy.

Richard Pryor is in this movie and he plays it mostly for laughs, but he is not mugging it up, his character is just a funny guy. Some of the same themes are in “Greased Lightning” which I wrote about earlier in the summer. There are a lot of familiar character actors working in this movie. One of them, Tony Burton, is best known as Apollo Creed’s manager in the Rocky films. He was a customer of Bert Kaplan’s insurance office when Dolores worked for Bert in the early 1980’s. He is a good actor and was a very nice man as well. I always get Ted Ross and Reginald VelJohnson from “Die Hard” confused with one another. They both have those voices that work so well in these character roles. Ted Ross is the evil team owner in this movie, in “Arthur” a few years later, he plays the very sympathetic chauffeur. This was a mostly black cast in a movie that was designed for a broad audience. Some of that kind of film-making seems to be missing these days. It seems too often that the audiences are targeted too narrowly today. I still want to see the re-make of “Death at a Funeral” because I enjoyed the original, but why is it remade three years later with an all black cast? This is a marketing decision not a artistic choice.

The movie looks really good, the production is very authentic. The baseball parks and automobiles fit the times really well. I loved the uniforms of the team, the way they extended a rainbow theme and the name of the team across each player’s chest so that you can see the rainbow and read the title when they stood next to each other in order was really original. I watched this today on my trusty laser-disc player and it was a good print with one terrible jump cut when the disc changes sides.This was the first feature film of John Badham, a director that made a lot of noise in the late seventies and early eighties. Originally, Steven Spielberg was going to do this film, but when Jaws broke open the money flood, he was given a chance to do his pet project “Close Encounters” instead. It is interesting to think how the movie might have been different if Spielberg had directed. I think Billy Dee Williams performance might have been stronger with a director who knew how to get the right emotions out of the actors. Billy Dee is not bad, but this movie could have been great instead of just really good if he had been more effective.