Tag Archives: Sheree North

Maniac Cop (1988, William Lustig)

There are good things about Maniac Cop. Not many and director Lustig doesn’t know what to do with them, but there are good things about it.

James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe’s photography is excellent. Lustig never asks them to do anything interesting, but they’re clearly capable of it. The stunts are also pretty good. They’re ambitious, which is strange, because nothing else about the movie is ambitious.

Lustig, as a director, can’t work with actors–the most annoying thing about Maniac Cop is it should be all right. Lots of elements should be good. Lustig can’t get acceptable performances out of actors like Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree. If you can’t get acceptable performances out of character actors, there’s something seriously wrong with your approach.

Larry Cohen’s script isn’t great–it’s similarly unambitious after a layered first act–but had Lustig kept the film interesting until the last act, it would’ve been better. The revelation of the evil spree killing cop is a dumb twist, but Cohen’s plotting of it is inept. It’s so inept, Lustig can’t even impair it.

Inordinately bad music from Jay Chattaway doesn’t help things. David Kern’s editing isn’t scary or exciting; Maniac Cop has this ornate, incompetent chase sequence where there’s clearly time put into it, but without good result.

Eventual lead Bruce Campbell’s okay. He manages to make a dip of a character likable and he has some fun playing the damsel in distress for a bit, but Lustig wastes him. Cohen writes a good character for Laurene Landon and Landon has some decent moments. Not enough, thanks to Lustig’s inability to direct his actors.

Maniac Cop plays like it is going to get markedly better at any moment. It never does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Lustig; written and produced by Larry Cohen; directors of photography, James Lemmo and Vincent J. Rabe; edited by David Kern; music by Jay Chattaway; production designer, Jonathan R. Hodges; released by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment.

Starring Tom Atkins (Frank McCrae), Bruce Campbell (Jack Forrest), Laurene Landon (Theresa Mallory), Richard Roundtree (Commissioner Pike), William Smith (Captain Ripley), Robert Z’Dar (Matt Cordell) and Sheree North (Sally Noland).


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Madigan (1968, Don Siegel)

Madigan ends really well, deceptively well, but the whole film is rather well-written. The problems are plot and production related. I suppose there’s some problems with unbelievable character relationships too–for example, Richard Widmark’s workaholic cop and Inger Stevens’s would-be social climber are never a credible couple. There’s also a big problem with the brief implication Widmark is overcompensating for some (undisclosed) character flaw, something related to Henry Fonda’s police commissioner.

Besides Stevens’s poor turns in the first half (it’s not really her fault, the writer’s just can’t make her character work), everyone else is excellent. Widmark’s great, Fonda’s exceptional and–as far as I know– it’s Harry Guardino’s biggest role. James Whitmore is excellent, as is Susan Clark. The standout, acting-wise, is Don Stroud, who’s fantastic as a big dumb lug.

The last paragraph’s glut of positive adjectives is to make up for this paragraph’s expected lack of them. Even though Madigan is beautifully filmed in New York (except the night scenes, which switch noticeably over to a backlot), Don Siegel just doesn’t know what to do with the script. Madigan‘s a cop movie from the 1970s made with 1960s filmmaking mores. The location shooting works, but the film stock changes when it goes to set. The way Siegel sets up his interior scenes, in widescreen Techniscope, is poor. He either centers his subjects or he spreads them out. For instance, Widmark and Guardino are talking on the left side of the frame while there’s a guy being mirandized on the right. Siegel fills the empty space with the arrestee, when it’s clear he’d rather have him in the background. Having read Siegel’s autobiography, I know he hated widescreen–he got over it for Dirty Harry to say the least, but here, it’s very clear he’s unhappy with it.

But the film’s not poorly directed, oddly enough. It just doesn’t work right. Fonda’s side stories with Whitmore and Clark are far more interesting than Widmark’s search for the crook who’s got his gun. Even Stevens’s eventual flirting with adultery (a big theme–Clark is a society wife bedding widower Fonda) is more interesting and far more effective. It’s an adult drama fused to a cop programmer. The scenes with Fonda and Clark are amazing, as is some of the dialogue in the conversations, which is what kept me enthused throughout the boring plot. The dialogue’s incredibly insightful and human.

The whole thing would probably work better with every scene related to the “A plot” excised. It’d probably only take off twenty minutes too. Oh, and if not for Don Costa’s bombastic, over-the-top score.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Siegel; screenplay by Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodman, based on a novel by Richard Dougherty; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Milton Shifman; music by Don Costa; produced by Frank P. Rosenberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Widmark (Det. Daniel Madigan), Henry Fonda (Commissioner Anthony X. Russell), Inger Stevens (Julia Madigan), Harry Guardino (Det. Rocco Bonaro), James Whitmore (Chief Insp. Charles Kane), Susan Clark (Tricia Bentley), Michael Dunn (Midget Castiglione), Steve Ihnat (Barney Benesch), Don Stroud (Hughie), Sheree North (Jonesy), Warren Stevens (Capt. Ben Williams) and Raymond St. Jacques (Dr. Taylor).


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Charley Varrick (1973, Don Siegel)

Walter Matthau hated Charley Varrick. He must have been stuck in a contract or something. It’s understandable why he did, however. Matthau’s whole image is one of the likable curmudgeons. Varrick casts him as a gum-chewing (for that Matthau effect) bank robber… who doesn’t do it because he needs the money, but because crop dusting has been taken over by big corporations. He loses his wife (the driver in his bank robbing crew) in the first few minutes of the film–it’s impossible to like her or particularly care, since she just got done shooting two people–and then, with the character’s only possible sympathy coming from his recent widowing, Matthau beds a woman a couple days later (after threatening to kill her). I can imagine Matthau had some problems with the film–it’s the most amoral thing I’ve ever seen. There are no good people in this film, with the exception of a few law enforcement personnel (who the film doesn’t want the audience to sympathize with) and a black family (who, interestingly enough, the film does want the audience to sympathize with). It’s unbelievable.

I’m not sure if Siegel knew what was going on while he was making it–I kind of doubt it, given how virtuously he defended it in his autobiography–but I think, reflexively, the filmmaker knew… In many ways, Charley Varrick is Siegel’s worst film, just because there’s no excuse for the badness. He had a good screenwriter (Dean Riesner) and a fantastic supporting cast. Andy Robinson and John Vernon are both excellent. Joe Don Baker–who Siegel knew the audience would like more than Matthau–plays a redneck Mafia hit man, who’s a complete piece of shit (but revels in it) and is the most entertaining part of the movie. Women are inexplicably drawn to Matthau, but, for whatever reason, one can believe they’d go for Baker. Oh, and the hit man’s name is Molly. So, obviously, Reiser and Siegel spent more time on that character. Robinson, who played the psycho in Dirty Harry for Siegel, showed a lot of promise as a comedic leading man (which, regrettably, never happened). It doesn’t help when the film spends fifteen minutes making him appealing, only to turn him into another pat bad guy. The disconnection may come from Riesner’s writing style on Siegel’s films–he and Siegel would lay out all the scripts (by various writers) and cut paste what they liked. I have no idea whether or not they did it on Charley Varrick (my copy of Siegel’s autobiography is in storage somewhere) but it feels like they did.

Some of this film–the beginning–features some excellent work from Siegel. Beautiful camera movements, a great crane shot… but it all disappears by the middle of the film. Actually, once the film stops centering on Matthau, it gets a lot better. When Universal released Varrick on DVD a couple years ago, they did it as part of their pan and scan classics of the 1970s series–a bunch of eclectic releases no one would want pan and scan. I had the laserdisc so I didn’t get upset, but Varrick’s got a really good reputation and I think a decent DVD release would have led to a (deserving) critical reevaluation of this film. It’s rather offensive and pretty lousy. The supporting cast (and the bland, not-badness of the scenic writing) make it watchable, but I can’t imagine a reason to watch the film again.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, from a novel by John Reese; director of photography, Michael C. Butler; edited by Frank Morriss; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Walter Matthau (Charley Varrick), Joe Don Baker (Molly), Felicia Farr (Sybil Fort), Andrew Robinson (Harman), Sheree North (Jewell Everett), Norman Fell (Mr. Garfinkle), Benson Fong (Honest John), Woodrow Parfrey (Harold Young) and John Vernon (Maynard Boyle).


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