Category Archives: 1975

You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

Most of You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown is a motocross race. There are a bunch of kids in the race–organized by Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman)–but the only two racers who matter are Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) and Snoopy, “disguised” as The Masked Marvel. The race is beautifully plotted. Charles M. Schulz’s script is good throughout, but the race stands out. It’s not overly dramatic, it’s just good. Whether it’s Charlie Brown chugging along on his broken down bike or Snoopy having time for a picnic, the animation is always good, the interlude pacing is always good, it just works.

With the exception of the ending, which is soft, Schulz’s script doesn’t have a weak moment. Roman’s direction is always good, the animation is always good, the voice acting is always good. If not better. Jimmy Ahrens’s Marcie is phenomenal here; Marcie gets the job of race announcer and, much to everyone’s surprise, immediately becomes a real sports journalist.

The short opens with Sally (Gail Davis) and Linus (Liam Martin) getting a scene. Davis’s real good, Martin’s fine, but it’s a great scene. The title is a little misleading because at no point is Charlie Brown ever (neccesarily) a good sport. It just seems like it’s going to involve sports and Sally and Linus going to play tennis is, you know, sports.

But they can’t play because Snoopy’s got a match going against a mystery opponent. That match’s punchline is when Sports all of a sudden gets really good. The match itself is long, but needs to be for the punchline.

Then the actual story starts, with Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman) arriving and telling all the other kids about motocross. Charlie Brown and Linus get a crappy bike so they can participate. Once the race starts, Sports stops being predictable until it’s over. Schulz has puts Chekov’s gun on the wall in the first act, but it’s not neccesarily for firing. Sports has a strong script. Right up until the mediocre close.

Roman’s direction is really good, the animation is excellent, the Vince Guaraldi seventies cool(ish) jazz score is great, Sports is a good outing for Charlie Brown and company.

Though it does seem to ignore how Charlie Brown (maybe subconsciously) obviously knows the Masked Marvel’s identity.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stuart Brotman (Peppermint Patty), Gail Davis (Sally Brown), Liam Martin (Linus van Pelt), and Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt).


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Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

There’s not a lot of story in Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) is anxious to receive some valentines. Meanwhile, Linus (Stephen Shea) has a crush on his teacher, much to the chagrin of Sally (Lynn Mortensen).

Those plots are it. Everything else either supports Charlie Brown and Linus’s story or is just padding. Sally gets some scenes, but it’s Linus’s plot line. And they’re padded.

Some of the padding is charming. Valentine has some iffy graphic blandishment and that iffiness works against the charm. Some of the padding is just padding too. There’s this lengthy sequence where Snoopy is putting on a play and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) gets suckered into seeing it. Charlie Brown narrates and, even though it doesn’t really fit and isn’t particularly successful, there’s some creativity to the vingette. The scenes for the main stories? They’re awkward. Especially the third act, which takes place on Valentine’s Day. The kids in school, getting their valentines.

Director Roman–and his graphic blandishers–don’t take a lot of time executing the scene. It’s a long scene, there’s plenty of time to execute it better, they just don’t. Sometimes it gets worse. Plus, there are these weird “Peanuts” continuity errors–like Peppermint Patty and Marcie being in the classroom (silent) when they’re supposed to go to a different school. It makes you wonder how closely Roman and the animators followed the Charles M. Schulz script.

Of course, while Schulz gets the sole writing credit, they are seven credited story writers. And Valentine feels like there are eight sets of hands in it. It’s all over the place.

Linus’s resolution is also poorly executed. It’s extremely padded. Literally extremely padded. Editors Roger Donley and Chuck McCann hold this shot where nothing is happening on screen and there’s no sound suggesting anything happening for most of it and it just hangs. Valentine stalls. Literally this time instead of figuratively.

There’s some fun Snoopy stuff–outside the play–and some okay, if not enough, material for Lucy–but it all hinges on Linus and Charlie Brown’s stories. And then it sabotages them through plodding plotting.

Valentine is too rote. Especially Vince Guaraldi’s score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; teleplay by Charles M. Schulz, based on a story by Joseph A. Bailey, Jerry Juhl, Emily Perl Kingsley, Norman Stiles, Paul D. Zimmerman, David Korr, and Ray Sipherd and characters created by Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Lynn Mortensen (Sally Brown), Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Greg Felton (Schroeder), and Linda Ercoli (Violet).


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The Stepford Wives (1975, Bryan Forbes)

The Stepford Wives puts in for a major suspension of disbelief request in the second scene–what is Katharine Ross doing married to Peter Masterson. They’ve gone from being a somewhat posh New York couple to a New York couple with kids and so they’re moving to Connecticut. Lawyer Masterson is going to take the train in to town while aspiring photographer Ross hangs around in the country, ostensibly taking care of the kids.

Ostensibly because they disappear for the most part, even though they ought to be around all the time, yet aren’t. Not keeping track of the kids, except when they need to be around for emphasis or plot contrivance, is one of director Forbes and screenwriter William Goldman’s fails. It’s one of their joint fails. Both have their own personal fails. It’s not even one of their major joint fails. It’s one of the “oh, yeah, they forgot about this subplot” fails. There are many.

Ross is bored in the small town. She doesn’t have anything in common with the other wives, who seem solely interested in keeping a tidy houses for their hard-working men. And, right away, Masterson joins the town’s men’s club and starts spending every night with the boys. In their big scary restored mansion (more in it in a bit).

Luckily, Ross soon finds the other new “Stepford Wives”, starting with Paula Prentiss. They’re fast friends who, after consulting with another new-to-town wife, Tina Louise, decide to start a women’s group. Except it turns out all the other women have to complain about is not having enough time to clean their houses, which Ross, Prentiss, and presumably Louise (who gets one of the lousier roles in a movie with an endless supply) all find peculiar.

Meanwhile, at home, Masterson is drinking all the time but loving hanging out with the boys. The boys–Josef Sommer, Franklin Cover, and George Coe–are a bunch of bores. Creepy silver fox Patrick O’Neal runs the club. He used to work at Disney. The other guys all work in cutting edge technology. William Prince, playing a retired pin-up artist, is the only one with any social skills. Masterson only drinks to excess in private, like he’s got something to hide from Ross.

Not to entirely spoil the movie, but it’s because he and his friends are plotting to murder Ross. It’s not like Stepford isn’t in the dictionary. The “twist” is a whole other thing I don’t even want to talk about. It’s not undercooked, it’s raw; there’s a lot of undercooked material in Stepford, but the twist hasn’t even been in the oven. Not the way Forbes and Goldman want to do it. Apparently they disagreed on the ending and Forbes got his way, but even if Goldman had it his way, it wouldn’t make up for the awful character development throughout the film informing it.

Masterson’s kind of mean to Ross. There aren’t any good men in Stepford, which is fine and accurate, but Masterson’s still too much of a jerk right off the bat. He’s such a trollish jerk, it’s hard to believe he’s a lawyer. He’s not a jerk in the right ways. It’s also hard to believe he and Ross ever had chemistry. In the first act, before the murder plot, he thinks he’s piggishly charming, even though Ross never positively responds to him. Goldman entirely slacks off on Masterson’s character establishment and development.

Masterson doesn’t transcend the material. It’s also not entirely the material’s fault. Maybe it’s just the casting director’s fault. Or just Forbes’s fault. Forbes has a shockingly bad handle on the material.

There’s satire and commentary about commercialism–at times–in Stepford Wives. Goldman usually comes up with adequate material and then Forbes utterly flops on it when directing the scene and the actors’ performances. You can see where the joke ought to be in Stepford, but instead of getting there, you watch Forbes repeatedly miss it.

The only excellent performance in the film is Ross. She’s outstanding. She’s got a crappy, underdeveloped character who can’t keep track of her kids, doesn’t have a believable “art” arc in her photography, and is inexplicably married to a jackass, but Ross is outstanding. The one thing Forbes does right is let Ross be alone. It’s no good once Forbes is trying generate scares–in that aforementioned scary mansion–but when it’s just Ross existing in a moment, it’s great. Ross is acting in a far better film than Stepford Wives. She’s just doing it in Stepford Wives.

Prentiss is likable but not good. She’s funny and seems to have a better handle on how to do the satire scenes than Forbes; she’s the only one who doesn’t look lost. But who knows because Forbes is hesitant to let the Wives act against one another too much in the same shot. He avoids those shots, preferring two Wives at a time in close-ups.

Paula Trueman is also fun. She apparently runs the town newspaper, or at least writes for it. She’s got a lousy part as it turns out. It’s like Goldman adapted the source novel without reading it. He never establishes continuity of behavior in the supporting cast. Trueman’s character doesn’t even get a name, even though the character–and actor–are a couple of the film’s stronger assets.

Otherwise the performances are basically just adequate. Even Louise, who gets a crap part, is just adequate. She just has more wasted potential than some of the other Wives, principally Nanette Newman. Newman is Ross’s neighbor who Ross never gets to meet without Prentiss being along because Newman has nooners with her husband. Is it for sure her husband? It’s worse if it is Sommer than if it isn’t, actually. There’s an extreme (and unexplored) connotation if it’s the latter, but if it’s the former… well, it’d be another of those major joint fails for Forbes and Goldman. Because even though the movie’s supposed to be satirical, Forbes doesn’t do metaphor. Even if it’s in the script. Forbes skips it.

I’m going a little longer than Wives deserves–unless one’s talking at length about Ross’s performance–but I do need to get to the finale. It’s like they ran out of money and decided to do a haunted house sequence. Because haunted houses always get scares. Except Owen Roizman doesn’t shoot Stepford like a thriller, he shoots it like a seventies drama. Michael Small’s score is for a seventies drama; mostly. When it’s trying for the horror, it’s for a bad horror movie. The music goes from one of the film’s pluses to minuses real fast.

So Forbes stumbles through the finale, which has Ross running from her fate. There’s no closure for Ross’s character arcs, not even the hint the character arcs have occurred. In fact, the finale gives one of the bad guys a monologue describing Ross to her. It’d be nice the monologue, which seems to greatly affect her, actually matched her character she’d been playing for the previous 110 minutes.

But it’s also a badly directed finale in a constrained set. It’s a bad, boring set and Forbes has no ideas for it. The movie deserves better. Ross deserves much better. She keeps Stepford afloat all by herself. Even as Forbes and Goldman try to sink it from under her.

The Stepford Wives is a peculiar, if predictable, fail.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Bryan Forbes; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Timothy Gee; music by Michael Small; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Edgar J. Scherick; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Katharine Ross (Joanna Eberhart), Peter Masterson (Walter Eberhart), Paula Prentiss (Bobbie Markowe), Patrick O’Neal (Dale Coba), Tina Louise (Charmaine Wimpiris), Nanette Newman (Carol Van Sant), Paula Trueman (Welcome Wagon Lady), George Coe (Claude Axhelm), Josef Sommer (Ted Van Sant), Franklin Cover (Ed Wimpiris), Neil Brooks Cunningham (Dave Markowe), Carol Eve Rossen (Dr. Fancher), William Prince (Ike Mazzard), and Robert Fields (Raymond Chandler).


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The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975, Lawrence Schiller and Bruce Nyznik)

The Man Who Skied Down Everest is a peculiar film. It’s straight, methodical narrative non-fiction. In 1970, Miura Yûichirô set out to ski down Everest. His expedition included a film crew. The resulting film doesn’t tell Miura’s story outside the present action–through narrator Douglas Rain, Miura’s diary entries tell the story in the present tense. Rain’s narration is set against the astounding backdrop of the Himalayas. Skied is almost more interesting as the expedition gets underway than when it reaches Everest, as it clearly became more and more difficult to get shots.

The narration is mostly factual presentation, giving additional details to what the viewer is seeing on screen. Filling it out. There’s a Sherpa boy who gets some attention, but not a subplot. Not even when tragedy occurs. The film has the hardest time with that tragedy, with the narration–presumably Miura’s thoughts at the time–not matching the action on film. Instead of getting an adventurous travelogue, Skied becomes focused on hardship. The sound seems detached and otherworldly at the Everest basecamp (presumably because the audio was recorded separately–Skied tries hard to preserve the original languages of the expedition, Japanese and Sherpa). Directors Nyznik and Schiller aren’t exploring anything with Skied, not the human hardship, not even Miura’s accomplishment. They’re presenting these amazing visuals and how they came to occur.

The music from Nexus and Larry Crosley certainly adds to the unimaginable grandeur of the film. Kanau Mitsuji’s photography is excellent. He uses some awkward lenses which affect the depth occasionally, but they were climbing Everest. They get some slack. Bob Cooper and Millie Moore’s editing is fine. There’s a questionable flourish when it comes to the finale but it’s still footage from Mt. Everest of a guy skiing. They get some slack. And there has to be something, as the film lacks any epical arc to it.

While the film’s called The Man Who Skied Down Everest and the narration is from that man’s diaries, Miura isn’t the exactly the focus of the film. The expedition is the focus of it, specifically the expedition’s journey. It’s lyrical for the most part. It’d be hard not to be given the locations.

The film seems relatively secure with its lack of deeper ambition. As a result, everything else excels. Though whoever told Rain to narrate with broken breath depending on Miura’s stress levels made a mistake. Otherwise, Rain’s narration is perfect. The documentary makers lucked out in having the diary entries. They provide the present action, binding all the startling visuals.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lawrence Schiller and Bruce Nyznik; based on the diaries of Miura Yûichirô; director of photography, Kanau Mitsuji; edited by Bob Cooper and Millie Moore; music by Nexus and Larry Crosley; produced by F.R. Crawley, James Hager, and Dale Hartleben; released by Specialty Films.

Narrated by Douglas Rain.


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