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The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast overview: Gene Hackman, John Cazale
Running time: 113 minutes

This is a film that has been on my "watch list", so to speak, for a while, and I decided to check it out what with it being so highly rated and also a seventies film, of which I'm trying to watch more with the MoFo Top 100 list deadline approaching. It's a slow-burning film, even though it's not particularly long, but that doesn't detract from its quality too much here. I don't mind if a film's slow as long as I feel it's effective and potent - I think The Conversation is, for the most part. The premise surrounds a surveillance expert, played by Gene Hackman, tracking a young couple, whom he then believes will be murdered. Nothing too complex but interesting nonetheless.

Ford Coppola had a great period in the seventies of directing films that have become renowned in their own right. This is no different. Hackman is an adept actor, and he plays Harry Caul here, the surveillance expert and protagonist of the film. This is a character study as much as it is a run-of-the-mill thriller, and I think that may be what puts people off. However, I think it adds to the film's overall quality - thriller seems to recently have become a byword for ham-fistedness and poor-quality films, but putting more emphasis on the main character is something that seems to have been bypassed in recent years, and the emotional effects presented here - and in films such as Jacob's Ladder - can be as powerful as the physical ones.

The acting is fine, and Harrison Ford features in a decent early role of his. Surprising how menacing he could be here. John Cazale is great as well - his five-film - and tragically short-lived - career produced five of the greatest films ever made in the eyes of many. He could play the underdog and the downtrodden character with gusto.

Overall, I think this is a very good film, even despite it dragging slightly in the middle third. The acting is skilful. Some of the film feels too slow, but it doesn't for the most part take away from the value of the film as a whole, and that's why I've given it an 8/10 rating.

Harry Caul: I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of murder.

[about a bum on a park bench]
Ann: Every time I see one of those old guys, I always think the same thing.
Mark: What do you think?
Ann: I always think that he was once somebody's baby boy. Really, I do. I think he was once somebody's baby boy, and he had a mother and a father who loved him, and now there he is, half dead on a park bench, and where are his mother or his father, all his uncles now?

[repeated line from the recording]
Mark: He'd kill us if he got the chance.

As Harry refines and re-refines the recording, he interprets what he hears in different ways. In fact, the dialog was recorded multiple times with different readings to get this effect.

Gene Hackman later plays a former NSA agent who is a surveillance expert in Enemy of the State (1998), and the images of his character in his younger days are taken directly from this film.

Coppola had written the outline in 1966 but couldn't get financing until The Godfather (1972) became a success.


Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Director: Don Siegel
Cast overview: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan
Running time: 112 minutes

This is one of my favourite films for several reasons. Firstly, the setting is great - I know it goes without saying that a film about Alcatraz is always going to be set in Alcatraz but it complements the plot and adds tension and suspense tenfold. There's also a great deal of acting ability, with Eastwood turning in one of his best performances ever as high-IQ prison escapee Frank Morris, and Patrick McGoohan performing well as the malicious prison warden.

What really makes this film tick, I feel, is the sense of isolation instilled from the island location of the prison. I visited the prison myself on one of the tours when I went to San Francisco last year, and - even though it's only a mile or so out by boat - it feels as though it could be in the middle of the ocean, miles from the nearest civilisation. The claustrophobia is very real, and Siegel does a great job of conveying this.

The film is slow-paced in a sense, and I've seen that as a common criticism from reviewers, but I feel it allows the characters to develop. In a film like this, the prison itself becomes a tangible setting, but allowing the characters themselves to convey themselves to the audience is also essential. The motives and aims of Morris and the two Anglin brothers are shown to us via the build-up of drama.

The sense of authenticity and gloom is part of what makes this so effective for me, and it stands up to this day as a film I can watch many times and still derive the same pleasure as I did on my first viewing, thanks to the realistic writing and acting, and all-round entertainment levels.

Charley Butts: I turned 35 today. Some birthday! When's your birthday?
Frank Morris: I don't know.
Charley Butts: Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?
Frank Morris: Short.

Warden: If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison; if you disobey the rules of the prison, they send you to US. Alcatraz is not like any other prison in the United States. Here, every inmate is confined ALONE... to an individual cell. Unlike my predecessors, Wardens Johnson and Blackwell, I don't have good conduct programs, I do not have inmate counsels. Inmates here have no say in what they do; they do as they're told. You're not permitted to have newspapers or magazines carrying news; knowledge of the outside world is, ah, what we tell you. From this day on, your world will be everything that happens in this building.

Frank Morris: Tell me, you stopped killing white people?
English: Why?
Frank Morris: Well, next time I wouldn't turn my back on ya.

The television show, MythBusters (2003) proved that this escape worked (or was at least plausible). They recreated the entire escape right down to using the same materials to which the cons had access. They even used the same type of raincoats from which the boat was made. The makeshift raft crafted and crewed by the MythBusters team did indeed reach the shore, but at the Marin Headlands instead of Angel Island.

The dangerous escape down the prison wall and into the water was performed without stunt doubles. It was performed by Clint Eastwood, Fred Ward, and Jack Thibeau, the later two were cast in the film partially due to their athletic ability. Director 'Don Siegel (I)' twice thought that he had lost his actors to the treacherous currents.

Film debut of Danny Glover, as one of the prison inmates.


Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast overview: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt
Running time: 117 minutes

Sci-fi isn't a genre with which I'm too familiar, but this is right at the top of the category, in my opinion. I know this is a popular franchise, but I was always put off due to the fact I had preconceived ideas of the films being unoriginal and plotless. I was certainly wrong about this particular curtain-raiser to the franchise, which is terrific for a sci-fi film considering it was made in 1979.

This is fantastic. The writing is realistic - well, as realistic as an alien making its way onto a spacecraft can be - and the characters react in different ways; it's clear that these aren't Hollywood actors, but ordinary people reacting in the way that ordinary people would, combined with the natural stresses of the situation. Ridley Scott deserves praise for his direction, which creates a sense of creepiness and claustrophobia, the ship in itself feeling isolated from a viewer's perspective.

For 1979, the effects are fantastic, from the design of the ship to the alien itself. They put you in the midst of such a situation and enhance the effect of the film in pulling you in and not letting you go. It's gripping from start to finish. The music, the special effects, the production values, the script - I think they're all top-class and add to what is a very good mix between science fiction and horror. Part of its appeal is also that it feels fresh - it could have been made yesterday and it wouldn't look out of place in modern-day cinema.

In short, this is a fantastic science fiction film that was genre-defining and, in my opinion, stands up as one of the best and well-made films of the genre, and an important and iconic film in the history of cinema.

[last lines]
Ripley: Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.
[to Jonesy the cat]
Ripley: Come on, cat.

Ripley: Whenever he says *anything* you say "right," Brett, you know that?
Brett: Right.
Ripley: Parker, what do you think? Your staff just follows you around and says "right". Just like a regular parrot.
Parker: [laughs] Yeah, shape up. What are you some kind of parrot?
Brett: Right.

Brett: Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Meaow. Here Jonesy.

The rumor that the cast, except for John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the chestburster scene is partly true. The scene had been explained for them, but they did not know specifics. For instance, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood.

To get Jones the cat to react fearfully to the descending Alien, a German Shepherd was placed in front of him with a screen between the two, so the cat wouldn't see it at first, and came over. The screen was then suddenly removed to make Jones stop, and start hissing.

It was conceptual artist Ron Cobb who came up with the idea that the Alien should bleed acid. This came about when Dan O'Bannon couldn't find a reason why the Nostromo crew just wouldn't shoot the Alien with a gun.


I watched Alien for the first time recently as well. I didn't respond to it as positively as you but I did like it well enough.

I watched Alien for the first time recently as well. I didn't respond to it as positively as you but I did like it well enough.
It was seeing the 1970s list thread, wanting to submit an entry, and realising there are still loads of films from the decade that I'm yet to watch that has resulted in my new-found seventies binge.

Think I'll be reviewing Taxi Driver next.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast overview: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster
Running time: 113 minutes

At its heart, Taxi Driver is a character study, that character being Travis Bickle, a lonely, insomniac taxi driver in New York City. Despite this seemingly simple exterior, he is a complex character who we follow throughout his late-night shifts around the city, and his loneliness, confusion and frustration surrounding the city he sees becomes apparent. We see very clearly the urban sleaze that abounds, and the multitude of unhinged and disturbing characters that walk the streets. Bickle is a portrait of loneliness - he doesn't particularly enter into any meaningful relationships, and this causes us to feel sympathy for him in many respects.

Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack - the last one he would ever do, sadly passing away prior to the film's release - complements tremendously the urban sleaze and grime, and the late-night seventies feel of the film. It evokes the feel of a jazz bar late at night, while also feeling hollow - it fits both with the violent and dirty city it portrays, but also with the loneliness of Bickle himself. Scorsese's direction is accomplished, and this is by far the best film I've seen from him - it also happens to be considered as one of his best. Bickle's internal monologue is also a nice touch, emphasising the feelings of isolation that seem to trap him.

This is also a film that is timeless. While it has a distinctly seventies feel, the problems and themes touched upon in the film are present and can be seen nowadays. Loneliness, for example, is timeless and indefinable in terms of an era.

The ending is ambiguous, and its ambiguity means there will be dozens of different interpretations as to what really happened afterwards, but that's part of the beauty of the film, and one of the reasons why it has instantly become one of my favourites - it's a fantastic portrayal of life and loneliness in 1970s New York.

Travis Bickle: [Travis is trying his guns on the mirror] Huh? Huh?
Travis Bickle: Faster than you, ****ing son of a... Saw you coming you ****ing... shitheel.
Travis Bickle: I'm standing here; you make the move. You make the move. It's your move...
Travis Bickle: Don't try it you ****.
Travis Bickle: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the **** do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah? OK.

Travis Bickle: Listen, you ****ers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the ****s, the dogs, the filth, the ****. Here is a man who stood up.

Travis Bickle: Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.

Paul Schrader wrote the script for "Taxi Driver" in five days. As he was writing, he kept a loaded gun on his desk for motivation and inspiration.

Robert De Niro worked twelve hour days for a month driving cabs as preparation for this role. He also studied mental illness.

Between the time Robert De Niro signed a $35,000 contract to appear in this film and when it began filming, he won an Oscar for his role in The Godfather: Part II (1974) and his profile soared. The producers were terrified that De Niro would ask for a deserved large pay raise, since Columbia was very discomfited by the project and were looking for excuses to pull the plug on it, but De Niro said he would honor his original deal so the film would get made.


Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Director: George Lucas
Cast overview: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford
Running time: 121 minutes

This is a critically acclaimed film, no doubt about that. In fact, it's regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. I can understand that, I suppose. At the time it must have been revolutionary, like nothing seen before, and it set the scene for a spawn of sequels and a multi-million dollar franchise that has seen imitations aplenty. Yet it doesn't quite work for me. I think most of that probably comes from my natural aversion to films of this nature - I'm not big on fantasy-type films, and this fits firmly in that bracket. That's not a fault of the film per se, but I begrudge giving a film a high mark when I haven't really enjoyed it.

I'll also mention that I'm reviewing this based on a viewing a bit back, so the details may be a bit hazy, but I'll proceed anyway. Firstly, the things I did like. The effects were decent, and excellent in fact for 1977, when big-budget films of this nature were, I imagine, something of a rarity - or, at least, they didn't come around as often as they do now. Another thing I enjoyed was John Williams' epic soundtrack - I'm a fan of his work on other films, and this didn't disappoint either. It's iconic, and it also has a timeless quality.

The characters are also very good, particularly that of Darth Vader - he has a chilling coolness in his presence that remains to this day in terms of rewatching it. Chewbacca, Han Solo and the like are also pretty good, etc.

So, in short, this is a decent enough film and I can fully understand why some people love it and consider it to be among the best of all time. I, personally, am not a massive fan and can't see myself watching it on regular occasions. I do like the entertainment purpose it set out to achieve, though, and think that entertainment should often be the driving motive in all films.

Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.
Obi-Wan: [with a small wave of his hand] You don't need to see his identification.
Stormtrooper: We don't need to see his identification.
Obi-Wan: These aren't the droids you're looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren't the droids we're looking for.
Obi-Wan: He can go about his business.
Stormtrooper: You can go about your business.
Obi-Wan: Move along.
Stormtrooper: Move along... move along.

Obi-Wan: Use the Force, Luke.

[Han answers the intercom after commandeering an attack station]
Han Solo: [sounding official] Uh, everything's under control. Situation normal.
Voice: What happened?
Han Solo: [getting nervous] Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
Voice: We're sending a squad up.
Han Solo: Uh, uh... negative, negative. We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Large leak, very dangerous.
Voice: Who is this? What's your operating number?
Han Solo: Uh...
[Han shoots the intercom]
Han Solo: [muttering] Boring conversation anyway. LUKE, WE'RE GONNA HAVE COMPANY!

George Lucas was so sure the film would flop that instead of attending the premiere, he went on holiday to Hawaii with his good friend Steven Spielberg, where they came up with the idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

While George Lucas was filming on location in Tunisia, the Libyan government became worried about a massive military vehicle parked near the Libyan border. Consequently, the Tunisian government, receiving threats of military mobilization, politely asked Lucas to move his Jawa sandcrawler farther away from the border.

Harrison Ford deliberately didn't learn his lines for the intercom conversation in the cell block, so it would sound spontaneous.


Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
The thing was that Star Wars was NOT revolutionary, but the subject matter of old Saturday matinee serials had never been done with such love, scope and self-awareness before. Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies were both homages and send-ups, with equal amounts of thrills and laughs. We ate them up because they took us back to a time when things weren't so serious. Of course, this was before every other Hollywood film tried to do something similar but mostly forgot the fun part. These type of fantasies, when done right, are exactly what movies do well. Just "ask" Georges Méliès.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

The thing was that Star Wars was NOT revolutionary, but the subject matter of old Saturday matinee serials had never been done with such love, scope and self-awareness before. Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies were both homages and send-ups, with equal amounts of thrills and laughs. We ate them up because they took us back to a time when things weren't so serious. Of course, this was before every other Hollywood film tried to do something similar but mostly forgot the fun part. These type of fantasies, when done right, are exactly what movies do well. Just "ask" Georges Méliès.
Fair enough, you clearly know more about the subject than me.

I watched The Conversation a couple months ago and thought it was good, but Nothjng special. I kind of wonder if I was having an off day because it's the kind of movie I normally like quite a bit. I should try it again.

I haven't seen Escape from Alcatraz since it was out. I remember being bored but I was 8 years old. I've really come to like that director so that's another one I have to see again.

I love Alien.

Taxi Driver is in my top 2 and probably will be for a very long time.

I loved Stars Wars when it came out, but haven't seen it in ages. Another to see again, although I can't picture loving it like I used to. But who knows.

Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast overview: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw
Running time: 124 minutes

Based on Peter Benchley's popular novel, Jaws is, in my opinion, a Hollywood masterpiece. The story is simplistic yet gripping, and should be recognisable by all: a great white shark terrorising the small Amity Island community, and the local police chief, an oceanographer and a professional shark hunter paid $10,000 by the town set out to stop it. The simplicity works so well because it results in a story that is easy to follow and still captivating.

Brody, played by Scheider, is the local police chief, an everyman that is endearing but also somewhat out of his depth at the challenge that faces him, though he does acquit himself well. Hooper, Dreyfuss' character and the role that propelled him to stardom, is a young, brash oceanographer. However, it's Robert Shaw's character, Quint, who is the most dynamic in the film, I feel. Enigmatic yet also strangely malevolent, he is almost the modern-day Captain Ahab, and he represents a charismatic on-screen presence, thanks in no small part to the acting credentials of Shaw himself.

Spielberg's direction elevates this to a higher level, as does the script that ranges from the witty to the chilling, containing lines that have passed into cinema lore, such as the "you're gonna need a bigger boat" and Quint's unforgettable tale of the Indianapolis incident. John Williams' now-iconic score is undoubtedly one of the best ever composed in cinema, and its menacing build-up to a crescendo fits perfectly with the shark itself. Indeed, the shark is a character in itself, albeit one of the more unorthodox film villains, but it has a marvellous presence that is at least on a par with other film villains.

The credibility and sheer entertainment factor combine to create one of the greatest thrillers of all-time, and a classic that will go down in cinema history as Spielberg's arguable peak.

Brody: You're gonna need a bigger boat.

Hooper: You were on the Indianapolis?
Brody: What happened?
Quint: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you're in the water, chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn't know. 'Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent, huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's... kinda like 'ol squares in battle like uh, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark goes to the nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin' chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, Bosun's Mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

Quint: Here lies the body of Mary Lee; died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years she kept her virginity; not a bad record for this vicinity.

Several decades later, Lee Fierro, who plays Mrs. Kintner, walked into a seafood restaurant and noticed that the menu had an "Alex Kintner Sandwich". She commented that she had played his mother so many years ago. The owner of the restaurant ran out to meet her - none other than Jeffrey Voorhees, who had played her son. They hadn't seen each other since the original movie shoot.

The mechanical shark spent most of the movie broken-down, and was unavailable for certain shots. This led Steven Spielberg to use the camera as the "shark", and film from the shark's point of view. Many think this added to the "chilling/haunting" quality in the final release saying that it would have made it too "cheesy" had they shown the shark as much as originally planned.

According to writer Carl Gottlieb, the line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" was not scripted but improvised by Roy Scheider.


I watched Jaws last month for the first time in 30 years for the 70's list; great movie. I still remember all the buzz when it first came out, and seeing it at the movies.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast overview: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando
Running time: 153 minutes

War is a much-covered and much-explored genre in film, although it's one that I haven't done much exploring of. However, my journey through seventies cinema led me to this - of course, I was well aware of it beforehand, but had never checked it out - and I decided to watch it, expecting an impressive and well-made film. I wasn't disappointed. Telling the story of a US soldier sent on a clandestine mission to assassinate a renegade US officer who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe, and with a story partly taken from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, it's an intriguing premise that draws you in from the start.

Like all war films - although this is also a drama about the effects of war itself - it's dark. The scenes of blazing jungles, explosions, napalm, and general horror is shocking and quite profound, especially given the true nature of the Vietnam War and the effects experienced by those who served over there.

Sheen and Brando turn in great performances as Willard and Kurtz respectively, with the former as a quiet and seemingly directionless officer and the latter as a former highly regarded soldier who has gone insane. Coppola's direction serves to heighten the acting skill on show and create a film that is as authentic as it is powerful. He's a director known for his fantastic work in the seventies, and this counts among masterpieces such as the first two Godfather films and The Conversation. The overriding message of "war is hell" is perhaps the most memorable notion gained from this film.

All in all, this is an epic masterpiece that is only prevented from getting a perfect score by a slightly overlong set-piece in the middle third, but it's a terrific piece of cinema that holds up to this day as a powerful and brutal film.

Kurtz: We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won't allow them to write "****" on their airplanes because it's obscene!

Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Lance: What?
Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that.
Kilgore: I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like
[sniffing, pondering]
Kilgore: victory. Someday this war's gonna end...
[suddenly walks off]

[last lines]
Kurtz: [voiceover] The horror... the horror...

The scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen told the shooting crew to just let the cameras roll. Sheen was actually drunk in the scene and punched the mirror which was real glass, cutting his thumb. Sheen also began sobbing and tried to attack Francis Ford Coppola. The crew was so disturbed by his actions that they wanted to stop shooting, but Coppola wanted to keep the cameras going.

Originally scheduled to be shot over six weeks, ended up taking 16 months.

Francis Ford Coppola threatened suicide several times during the making of the film.


Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Sheen's great, Duvall's spectacular, Brando's a joke, the photography and production design are exquisite, a few scenes are overwhelming, and the film ultimately has no backbone. Basically, it's a big-budget version of Aguirre the Wrath of God. It adds up to a
to me.

Sheen's great, Duvall's spectacular, Brando's a joke, the photography and production design are exquisite, a few scenes are overwhelming, and the film ultimately has no backbone. Basically, it's a big-budget version of Aguirre the Wrath of God. It adds up to a
to me.
I did say I didn't think it was perfect.

A system of cells interlinked
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"There’s absolutely no doubt you can be slightly better tomorrow than you are today." - JBP