Category Archives: 1979

Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director’s cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


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Sunburn (1979, Richard C. Sarafian)

Sunburn is a Farrah Fawcett star vehicle. It’s really Charles Grodin’s movie for the most part, but it’s Farrah Fawcett’s vehicle. She can be down home, she can be glamorous, she can be faithful when playing Grodin’s fake wife (which Grodin can’t), she can be adventurous, she can be dumb, she can be smart, she can be scantily clad, she can be topless in bed but with her back turned. Because sometimes Sunburn is all about the male gaze. Sometimes it’s all about gentle comedy. Sometimes it’s bad car chases. Sometimes it’s about puppies.

In addition to Grodin and Fawcett, Art Carney rounds out the lead characters. Grodin’s an insurance investigator, Fawcett is his presumable local model fake wife (he calls an agency to hire her and it’s made clear it isn’t an escort agency), Carney is the local P.I. buddy of Grodin. Carney’s got some cred, but Sunburn is boiling over with credibility cameos. There’s Keenan Wynn, Eleanor Parker, John Hillerman. Wynn is in one scene and has like two lines. Parker doesn’t even get a close-up. She’s the widow of the case and Grodin never gets around to interviewing her. Hillerman has a couple scenes and no character. William Daniels at least has some personality.

But then there’s Joan Collins. And she’s awesome. She’s got the promiscuous, unhappy older rich married lady part. “She must be forty!” Fawcett tells Grodin at one point, hoping to dissuade his interest without appearing jealous. Because Sunburn is nothing if not a product of its time. Three screenwriters–James Booth, Stephen Oliver, producer John Daly–and the best acted moments in the film are when Grodin and Carney are mugging it for the camera. Seriously. Carney sort of assumes the space in the film Collins does in the first act or so. It’s unfortunate. Collins is a lot more fun. Carney is cute, but it’s a nothing part. Collins has a nothing part and goes wild with it.

Shame Sarafian can’t direct it. He can’t direct any of it. He goes from mediocre to bad to worse. Geoffrey Foot’s editing is awful, but it’s obviously a lack of available footage. Sarafian can’t figure out how to direct any of it. Not interiors, especially not exteriors, not his actors, not action, nothing. In the second half, once the investigation is going full steam, there’s almost some attempts at style, but Foot’s editing ruins it.

Álex Phillips Jr.’s photography is solid. Acapulco looks nice. John Cameron’s poppy score is preferable to the top 40’s soundtrack, which actually is part of the story–Fawcett is always playing cassettes on her portable player.

Grodin’s occasionally got moments. Not many, not great ones, but some. He’s able to survive Sunburn. He’s doing his thing, he’s doing it turned up to eleven, and he’s able to get through.

As for Fawcett, after a slightly promising start, she gets a terrible arc for a star vehicle and there’s only so much her likability can get through. The film lays on a lot of backstory to get sympathy, along with a clumsiness subplot it immediately drops, but it’s all show. There aren’t any real scenes between her and Grodin, just exposition–which is initially fine because of their awkward bantering–and when she makes her second act transition to intrepid, scantily clad adventurer, there’s just no support for it. Sunburn stops pretending it’s going to give Fawcett anything to do.

The cast of Sunburn is strong enough to do this thing. It’s a noir spoof, or should be. Sarafian can’t do it, the script can’t do it. The actors could. Collins sort of does.

Oh, and the non-credibility cameo stars. Robin Clarke, Joan Goodfellow, Jack Kruschen, Alejandro Rey. Alejandro Rey is awesome. Robin Clarke tries really, really, really, really, really hard. And he sucks. Goodfellow’s bad but likable. Kruschen needed to be the best credibility cameo. Sunburn’s Mr. Big needs to be someone formidable, because there is actual danger.

So, an interesting film to dissect given its motives, but it’s dramatically inert due to technical incompetence.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian; screenplay by James Booth, John Daly, and Stephen Oliver, based on a novel by Stanley Ellin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by John Cameron; production designer, Ted Tester; produced by Daly and Gerald Green; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Farrah Fawcett (Ellie), Charles Grodin (Jake), Art Carney (Al), Joan Collins (Nera), Alejandro Rey (Fons), Robin Clarke (Karl), Joan Goodfellow (Joanna), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Thoren), John Hillerman (Webb), William Daniels (Crawford), Keenan Wynn (Mark Elmes), Jack Kruschen (Gela), and Seymour Cassel (Dobbs).


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She’s Dressed to Kill (1979, Gus Trikonis)

She’s Dressed to Kill is a simultaneously a perfect TV movie and a disappointment. It’s a murder mystery set on an isolated mountain; Eleanor Parker is a recluse fashion designer who has a show and the attendees can’t stop being murdered. Only the killer has followed the attendees, as the murdering starts before the fashion show.

The movie opens with top-billed John Rubinstein and Jessica Walter. She has the fashion agency, he’s her photographer Friday. Rubinstein and Walter are really good together. She’s good throughout, but George Lefferts’s teleplay eighty-sixes her pretty quickly. Doesn’t kill her, just ignores her. Dressed isn’t good at character development. Rubinstein ends up romancing Gretchen Corbett to give him something to do and their courtship mostly consists of him telling her, “you don’t have to be a model to be beautiful,” and then treating her to an impromptu fashion shoot. It’s a TV movie, sure, but it’s on very precarious philosophical ground.

Especially given how much of the second act is spent with experienced model Joanna Cassidy trying to talk newbie Connie Sellecca out of modeling.

There are suspects aplenty but Dressed doesn’t have a good solution to its mystery. Lefferts isn’t writing a mystery so much as a thriller. It’s engaging during viewing but it doesn’t hold up on consideration. So, a perfect TV movie. It’s ephemeral, without any further ambitions, which is a shame given the cast.

Parker has a great time as the fashion designer. She’s playing it constantly hammered, with a lot of knowingly exaggerated tragedy. And Walters is great when she’s in it. Corbett’s got a lousy part but she’s good. Rubinstein’s likable, until he gets grating. Banks is good. Cassidy tries. It doesn’t work–director Trikonis doesn’t direct his actors or for them–but she does try.

Speaking of trying, Sellecca is probably the movie’s biggest misfire. She’s incredibly shallow. Sellecca does try, but she’s not good. She’s got zero chemistry with the other actors and her part’s annoying. And Peter Horton’s pretty weak in a smaller suspect role too.

But She’s Dressed to Kill definitely diverts for its runtime. I just wish it did something more. Being a completely competent television movie is one thing, but wasting the fine performances–Walter especially–is inexcusable.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Trikonis; written by George Lefferts; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Ira Heymann; music by George Romanis; executive producers, Merrill Grant and Barry J. Weitz; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Connie Sellecca (Alix Goldman), John Rubinstein (Alan Lenz), Eleanor Parker (Regine Danton), Gretchen Corbett (Laura Gooch), Jessica Walter (Irene Barton), Jim McMullan (Sheriff Halsey), Clive Revill (Victor De Salle), Barbara Cason (Deenie Gooch), Cathie Shirriff (Kate Bedford), Corinne Calvet (Colette), Peter Horton (Tony Smith), Jonathan Banks (Rudy Striker) and Joanna Cassidy (Camille Bentancourt).


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Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979, Ivan Nagy)

Captain America II: Death Too Soon, although it actually doesn’t have an onscreen subtitle, could just as well be called Captain America II: The Show No One Wants to See. I don’t even mean the eventual show (Death Too Soon is the second, Reb Brown-fronted CBS pilot), I mean this pilot movie, which retains executive producer Allan Balter and a lot of the crew from the initial attempt. It’s a complete wreck.

First example: Len Birman. Awesome co-star of the previous pilot movie. Given nothing to do outside some exposition, which he handles admirably. Except perving on Connie Sellecca, who does not give a good performance as a trouble-shooting super-scientist. She doesn’t. But she does start an actual subplot with her boss, Birman, sniffing her hair. It’s weird. What’s weirder is it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t exactly get dropped, there just isn’t anymore character development for the characters. At first, I thought it was star Reb Brown sniffing her hair, but he’s actually got an entirely separate love interest.

Brown, or Captain America, is in love with his painting. Writers Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne can’t stop having people talk about Brown and his stupid painting. He paints portraits of old people, cats, women on horses. He just loves painting. And maybe he should, but Death Too Soon doesn’t develop Brown’s protagonist either. Instead, it runs him around in a dumb costume for desperate action sequences. There’s obviously some significant spending on this second attempt, but Balter doesn’t use it well. It’s too cheap on the character stuff, too focused on motorcycle stunts and awful fight scenes; Death Too Soon amps up the previous pilot’s “Wonder Wonder”-wannabe syndrome. Everything good in the previous pilot gets flushed for everything bad in it.

There’s one good segment in Death Too Soon. Otherwise, director Nagy alternates between atrocious and incompetent. He’s never even pedestrian. It’s a poorly directed pilot. Except one chase sequence where Captain America’s motorcycling on a dam. It doesn’t even end well. But it’s really well done before it goes bad. It’s incredibly out of place.

Christopher Lee and Stanley Kamel play the villains, along with Lana Wood (who’s awful). Lee and Kamel are fun together, with Lee turning in a mostly awesome performance. He doesn’t class it up though, he just excels in his own role. It’s kind of cool, actually. He protects his brand.

Okay supporting turn from Katherine Justice as Brown’s human love interest. John Waldron’s obnoxious as her kid though. And Ken Swofford’s awful as a government stooge.

Death Too Soon also has this really weird “pro-gadget, anti-science” thing going on, which should–combined with being a failed “‘Wonder Woman’ for boys” TV pilot, Lee, Brown’s desperately lighted blond hair, experimenting on babies, Birman’s perving, Justice’s too tight jeans–make it a lot of bad camp fun. But it doesn’t, instead it’s just awful. It’s a poorly produced television pilot. It fails.

Except the dam. And, at some point in the production, someone did come up with some all right ideas. Mostly involving Lee’s character. Nagy just couldn’t execute any of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Captain America / Steve Rogers), Katherine Justice (Helen Moore), John Waldron (Peter Moore), Christopher Lee (Miguel), Stanley Kamel (Kramer), Connie Sellecca (Dr. Wendy Day), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Ken Swofford (Everett Bliss), Christopher Cary (Professor Ian Ilson), William Lucking (Stader) and Lana Wood (Yolanda).


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