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Four Men and a Prayer Review


Weak
In Four Men and a Prayer, director John Ford doesn't have one. Saddled by Darryl Zanuck with a claptrap mystery adventure plot involving the dishonorable discharge and subsequent murder of a proud British career officer during the jewel-in-the-crown years of British colonialism and the efforts of his four sons to find the killer and exonerate their father, Ford assumes the role of Houdini. With a handsome physical production, Ford mounts an impressive sleight-of-hand, diverting prying eyes by throwing everything at the audience he can think of, anything to stay away from the actual story, which Ford doesn't want to get close enough to smell.

The nominal plot has stout-hearted Colonel Loring Leigh (C. Aubrey Smith -- who else?) kicked out of the Lancers for signing an order allowing a shipment guns to find their way into the hands of a band of Indian rebels, who end up massacring 90 men at one of those Indian passes so famous in '30s movie adventure yarns. Colonel Leigh is drummed out of the army but knows he's been set up and his signature forged. Returning to England he summons his four sons -- dim bulb Oxford student Rodney (William Henry), pompous barrister Wyatt (George Sanders), shallow ladies man/aviator Chris (David Niven), and stuffy British attache Geoffrey (Richard Greene) -- in order to show them the evidence proving he was framed by an international gun cartel. He doesn't get that far. While the boys are sipping bitters in the ante room, Colonel Leigh is shot dead in his study and the evidence removed. The press claims Leigh committed suicide from his disgrace, but the boys know better and set about to find his killer and clear his name.

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The Good Guys and the Bad Guys Review


Terrible
Burt Kennedy's The Good Guys and the Bad Guys is the kind of western that's so tired and old that it has to rely on a phony jokiness to get through the clich├ęs. Around 1969, there were a lot of those westerns to go around -- True Grit, There Was a Crooked Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The War Wagon, and Kennedy's own Support Your Local Sheriff, which looks as if it were shot on the same cheap and generic western set as The Good Guys and the Bad Guys. Some of these westerns were elevated from their Cat Ballou foundation by actually not being westerns at all but, instead, interesting character studies (True Grit, Butch Cassidy) or more comedies than westerns (Support Your Local Sheriff).

But others just languished between the two extremes being neither one nor the other, in the end being nothing at all. Into this classification falls The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, a meaningless and harmless bit of flatulence that caused barely a ripple of interest in 1969, when critical sniffers where inhaling deeply of Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.

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Drums Along The Mohawk Review


Excellent
For a beaten-down film critic as myself, the best thing about attending The New York Film Festival is not to get a jump on feature film releases that will quickly show up in local theaters a few days after their festival premieres, but to savor those obscure, febrile marvels of classic cinema that for whatever reasons (neglect, deterioration, ignorance) have been shuttled aside or locked away in film vaults to make way for the latest De Palma monstrosity, a fawning Las Vegas comic tribute documentary, or the most recent Sylvia Miles comeback film.

The New York Film Festival offered a double bill of savory morsels in this succulent vein, presided over master chef Martin Scorsese and his restoration outfit, The Film Foundation. On the bill-of-fare at The New York Film Festival were two 20th Century Fox three-strip Technicolor sweetmeats -- John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk and John Stahl's Leave Her To Heaven.

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The Sentinel (1977) Review


Good
Next time you rent an apartment, you might check to make sure it's not the doorway to hell before you sign the lease. Alison (Cristina Raines, who vanished from the Hollywood scene in 1987) is a suicidal model who figures this old and roomy place will offer a respite from her rough life. When she complains about the weird and loud neighbors (including an unforgettable and deliciously nasty Beverly D'Angelo, who rubs her crotch to, er, completion when Alison is over for coffee), it turns out no one else lives there. Is it a hallucination or demons? Either way, this is one hell of a sick little horror flick. Watching for stars then and now to make their appearances can alone make the film worthwhile.

Stagecoach Review


Good
Stagecoach is the archetypical Western -- a stagecoach full of crazies has to make it through Indian country in one piece. Though it was his 80th film (of nearly 200), Stagecoach made John Wayne into the superstar he eventually became. Mitchell won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drunken Doc Boone, and the rest of the cast, notably Trevor as a hooker being run out of town, are memorable. The film has some amazing gaffes, including guns that kick but don't actually go "bang" and, again most notably, one rear-projected shot from the stagecoach where the Indian outside is riding the wrong way. Classic, yet hopelessly dated.

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The Secret of NIMH Review


Good
Never mind the G rating, this is scary stuff which sent my little one fleeing to another room inside of 10 minutes. Between the cat attacks and murderous rats, there's a lot of terror in The Secret of NIMH, but slightly older kids will likely thrill to the Harry Potter-like adventure here, which has a widowed mouse trying to figure out how to move her cinder block house and three children to safety before the plowing begins and rips them all to shreds. So, of course, she turns to the genetically enhanced rats down the way, who overcome their own obstacles before coming to a magical, sword-slinging rescue. Quite the finale.

The Sentinel Review


Good
Next time you rent an apartment, you might check to make sure it's not the doorway to hell before you sign the lease. Alison (Cristina Raines, who vanished from the Hollywood scene in 1987) is a suicidal model who figures this old and roomy place will offer a respite from her rough life. When she complains about the weird and loud neighbors (including an unforgettable and deliciously nasty Beverly D'Angelo, who rubs her crotch to, er, completion when Alison is over for coffee), it turns out no one else lives there. Is it a hallucination or demons? Either way, this is one hell of a sick little horror flick. Watching for stars then and now to make their appearances can alone make the film worthwhile.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask Review


Excellent
A minor classic and Woody Allen's most absurd film ever, this series of seven short vignettes is worth a look for its '70s fueled humor and sex-crazed hysterics. Based on (well, not really -- inspired by, let's say) the watershed book, Allen indulges in homages to everyone from Scorsese to Kubrick to Fellini, with stops along the way for his traditional neurotic filmmaking style. The stories are goofs on cross-dressing, beastiality, sex in public, and more. Perhaps the most notorious moment involves an enormous breast rampaging the countryside, and the "What's My Perversion?" sketch (a riff on What's My Line?, starring Jack Barry as himself) is classic. Pricelessly ridiculous.

Boxcar Bertha Review


Weak
Notable for being Martin Scorsese's first Hollywood feature and containing Barbara Hershey's most notorious nude scenes, Boxcar Bertha is genre schlock. Cineastes try to read a lot into the film -- commissioned as a reponse to Bonnie and Clyde by Roger Corman -- somehow indicating that Scorsese's greatness was evident (Mean Streets would follow one year later), but Bertha is fundamentally just a Bonnie ripoff, with Hershey and David Carradine galavanting across the Depression-era south with the goal of ruining a railroad, robbing banks and whoring it up along the way. The abrupt ending is strange but oddly relieving.

The Ice Pirates Review


OK
Yeah, that's Anjelica Huston in a campy sci-fi spoof, but that doesn't mean it ever takes itself seriously.

Robert Urich stars as a space pirate in the far future, when there's no more water in the galaxy, and pirates work the shipping lanes of open space to steal what ice there is left. Urich's Jason winds up in a plot involving a kidnapped princess, an evil empire, and a visit to "the seventh world," which includes time travel,

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Review


Good
James Stewart and Lee Marvin square off in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the Citizen Kane of westerns -- about a Senator (Stewart) from the old west who returns who for the funeral of an old cowboy friend (the inimitable John Wayne), whereupon he is quizzed about his rise to power as a politician, thanks to his slaying of the evil highwayman Liberty Valance (Marvin). What follows is an unraveling of the legend behind the infamous shootout, when Stewart's pantywaist lawyer somehow outdid the rough-and-tumble villain.

A classic John Ford film (and one of the last black and white westerns to be made), Wayne and Stewart make a great Odd Couple in the podunk town of Shinbone. Unfortunately, the middle of the film sags under the overly patriotic history lessons we are given when Stewart takes it upon himself to teach the locals how to read and write. The ensuing fight for statehood isn't much better, except when Valance comes a-knockin'.

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The Grapes of Wrath Review


Excellent
John Ford's adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel is moving and heartfelt, despite its random structure and rambling, overwrought (and overly political) narrative. Henry Fonda owns the show as Tom Joad, a prison parolee in the 1930s who returns to his Oklahoma home to discover his family has been ousted from their farm by a greedy corporation when the infamous "dust bowl" hits. The family packs it up for California to try to make a go of it as migrant farm workers, which doesn't necessarily pan out for the best, thanks to Tom's penchant for getting into fights with "Okies go home" types. The Grapes of Wrath pours on the populist and neo-Communist schmaltz, but Fonda's portrayal of the permanently-down-on-his-luck Tom really makes you feel sorry for him. Which, I suppose, is the point.

Stagecoach Review


Good
Stagecoach is the archetypical Western -- a stagecoach full of crazies has to make it through Indian country in one piece. Though it was his 80th film (of nearly 200), Stagecoach made John Wayne into the superstar he eventually became. Mitchell won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the drunken Doc Boone, and the rest of the cast, notably Trevor as a hooker being run out of town, are memorable. The film has some amazing gaffes, including guns that kick but don't actually go "bang" and, again most notably, one rear-projected shot from the stagecoach where the Indian outside is riding the wrong way. Classic, yet hopelessly dated.

The Howling Review


Good
Werewolves are the least-regarded of all the classic monsters. While vampires have all the sex appeal and mummies have already had their blockbuster remake, werewolves have a tendency to seem low-rent and shaggy; basically like really angry dogs. 1981 changed all that with a brief two-film comeback for the hairy beasts: John Landis's An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante's The Howling. Superior both in terms of its story and sense of humor, The Howling shares American Werewolf's post-modern cheekiness but knows when to rein it in and let the wolves howl.

Starting in a welter of televised static, the movie's setup is straight from a standard thriller: TV anchorwoman Karen White (Dee Wallace, one year before E.T.) is taking part in a police sting. She's been receiving letters from a man claiming to be the brutal serial killer currently terrorizing L.A., and as part of the sting, has agreed to meet him. After a cop mix-up and a horrific encounter between Karen and the killer in a peepshow booth, the killer is shot dead. Karen keeps having bad dreams, however, prompting her psychologist, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), to send her up the coast to convalesce at The Colony, a retreat where his teachings - vague mumbo-jumbo about harmonizing the relationship between one's animal and civilized selves and something called "The Gift" - are put into practice. Then she starts hearing all that howling in the woods around her cabin...

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